What’s Wrong with the World

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"The post is remarkably ungenerous. It drips with contempt." -- *UPDATE BELOW*

The title of this post is from a comment that David Blakenhorn left over at a short post on the First Things website. The post concerns the recent about-face that Jody Bottum has publicly proclaimed on the subject of so-called same-sex "marriage" (he's now for it). But as Mathew Franck so ably explained in his post, if you take the time to read through Bottum's essay*, all you come away with is the notion that Bottum is intellectually incoherent.

For example, Franck points out that Bottum says,

under any principle of governmental fairness available today, the equities are all on the side of same-sex marriage. There is no coherent jurisprudential argument against it—no principled legal view that can resist it.

But as Franck goes on to explain,

No one with the least comprehension of legal reasoning who has followed the actual jurisprudential arguments in the relevant cases could have written such lines. Bottum refers later to the “infamous ‘mystery passage’” in the 1992 Casey ruling, and he seems to know what nonsense it was. But since it is actually the best constitutional argument for a right of same-sex marriage—and it fails entirely to be an argument—what then are we to make of his bold pronouncements on what is and is not a “coherent jurisprudential argument”?

I could point to my own favorite example, which happens to dovetail nicely with one of the central concerns of a former blogger here at "What's Wrong" -- how natural law arguments are used (or are failed to be used) in the wider culture. Bottum treats the issue as follows:

Where we’re going with all this is toward a claim that the thin notions of natural law deployed against same-sex marriage in recent times are unpersuasive, and, what’s more, they deserve to be unpersuasive—for their thinness reflects their lack of rich truth about the spiritual meanings present in this created world...

...One understanding of the sexual revolution—the best, I think—is as an enormous turn against the meaningfulness of sex. Oh, I know, it was extolled by the revolutionaries as allowing real experimentation and exploration of sensation, but the actual effect was to disconnect sex from what previous eras had thought the deep stuff of life: God, birth, death, heaven, hell, the moral structures of the universe, and all the rest...

...Those consequences were, in essence, the stripping away of magic—the systematic elimination of metaphysical, spiritual, and mystical meanings. Science, Francis Bacon told us, could not advance in any other way. Real democracy, Diderot explained, would not arrive “until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” When the Supreme Court gave us the infamous “mystery passage” in the 1992 abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey—“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”—the justices were merely following out to its logical conclusion the great modern project of disenchantment. And it’s worth noticing that the mystery passage was quoted approvingly and relied upon in the 2003 sodomy-law case Lawrence v. Texas and by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2005 when it ordered the state to register same-sex marriages.

As a practical matter, the gay-rights lawyers were probably smart to take the mystery passage and run with it. You use what tools you’re given, even if they confirm your opponents’ inchoate sense that all social issues are somehow joined, abortion of a piece with same-sex marriage. But as a theoretical matter, I’m less convinced. What kind of moral or social victory do you obtain if the marriage you’re granted is defined as nothing more than a way in which individuals define the concept of their own existence? Marriage seemed one of the last places left where Weber’s “great enchanted garden” of traditional societies could still be found...

THIS POINTS US toward the general problem with arguments that rely on natural law—natural law, that is, in the modern sense, as developed most notably by the philosophers John Finnis and Germain Grisez, and explicated for political application by Robby George and many subsequent conservative writers. As deployed in our current debates, this kind of thing has always seemed to me a scientized, mainline-Protestantized version of the thicker natural law of the medievals: natural law as awkwardly yoked to the “elective affinities” of modernity.

On point here is Russell Hittinger’s critique of “new natural law” as an attempt to have a theology-free version of a rational philosophy that depended, by its original internal consistency, on premises of God, creation, and Aristotelian natural forms. Natural law was always a little theologically thin. It derived from a rich understanding of the world, yes, but it was something like the least common denominator of spiritual views: a “mere metaphysics” (to misapply a concept of C. S. Lewis’s). And it worked well enough as a philosophy in a time when people generally agreed that the world was enchanted, however vehemently they disagreed about the specifics of that enchantment. Natural law broke spirituality down to its most basic shared components and then built a rationally defensible ethics up again from that foundation.

Paging Professor Feser, clean up in aisle one! But more seriously, I hope readers can see even in these abbreviated passages the central paradox in Bottum's confused writings -- he wants the wider culture to adopt a more serious, richer metaphysical natural law so that those of us defending traditional marriage (and related concepts like chastity, making divorce rare, etc.) will be able to get through to the culture -- but his plan to do so is to abandon the fight for what marriage really means until...until we teach everyone basic metaphysics? Teleology 101? Buy every high school senior in America The Last Superstition? No, his recommendation for how we teach the masses natural law is "massive investments in charity, the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed simply because they are Christians, and a church-wide effort to reinvigorate the beauty and the solemnity of the liturgy." Chinese missionaries and the true nature of marriage -- go together like a horse and carriage!

Anyway, all of this is good fun and brings me back to Blankenhorn's ridiculous comment: remember, this is the guy who also abandoned the fight to defend traditional marriage because he came to believe in the "equal dignity of homosexual love". Was he enjoying afternoon tea in the company with Anthony Kennedy before he wrote his silly NYT editorial? And he also came to believe in "basic fairness" (as if changing the definition of 2+2 = 4 is somehow related to fairness), but whatever David, keep telling yourself that you also believe:

Marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children. At the level of first principles, gay marriage effaces that gift. No same-sex couple, married or not, can ever under any circumstances combine biological, social and legal parenthood into one bond.

In case you didn't notice, just like your new buddy Jody Bottum, you are as intellectually incoherent as Mathew Franck pointed out Mr. Bottum was and as many of your critics pointed out the same back when you wrote your execrable article. As another one of the First Things commenters says regarding Bottum's article,

My first reaction to this news is heavy sadness. My second is to hope that Mr. Bottum’s friends will come to his aid; that they will supply him with the many scholarly, elegantly reasoned articles written in support of marriage and its necessity for the protection of children’s human rights (Douglas Farrow’s immediately comes to mind) that will help him to see his error; that he will be encouraged and strengthened by that counsel and by the Holy Spirit to see his error. It is not too late, never too late, to see the truth.

(*I don't recommend our readers undertake the endeavor, unless they have a strong appetite for confusing and incoherent prose -- one of the other commenters at First Things amusingly says, "Wow. After three attempts, I still could not finish it. Never mind the weakness of the argumentation, the article is a wonderful example of poor writing from someone whose writing I once thought good. The shame of the thesis is magnified by the lack of any clear thesis. It is like the Sunday afternoon rides we would take in the car. My father would take off behind the wheel and none of knew where we would end up. Sadly, it is a whole lot less interesting.")

UPDATE: After name-checking the wonderful Professor Ed Feser, unbeknownst to me, he was in the process of writing his own response to Bottum's piece which you all can read here. I recommend reading the whole thing, but just to give you all a taste, here is Feser's famous acerbic wit in full bloom:

Bottum’s third reason also involves capitulation, this time to secular culture. He opines that:

Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about.

He adds that the clergy sex scandals have undermined the Church’s moral authority on matters of sex anyway. Perhaps Bottum would also have advised the early Christians to just lighten up and offer a little incense to Caesar -- the young people, after all, couldn’t see what the big deal was, and anyway all that martyrdom stuff was just making Christians look like fanatics. Perhaps he would have told Athanasius to knock it off already with the Trinitarianism, since it was just alienating the smart set. Besides, most of the bishops had caved in to Arianism, so that the Church lacked any moral authority on the subject. And maybe Bottum would have advised the Christian warriors at Spain, Vienna, and Lepanto to get real and learn to accept a Muslim Europe. After all, these various desperate Catholic efforts were, as history shows, a waste of time -- the Roman persecutors, Arians, and invading Muslims all won out in the end, right?

But to be fair, those analogies aren’t quite right. A better analogy would be Bottum suggesting that a little emperor worship might actually serve the cause of monotheism; or that giving Arianism free reign might advance recognition of the divinity of Christ; or that submitting to dhimmitude might be a good way of restoring Christendom. For here is what Joseph Bottum, prophet of a re-enchanted reality and rebuilder of Aquinas’s natural law, sees, if only murkily, in his crystal ball:

In fact, same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in chastity in a culture that has lost much sense of chastity. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in love in a civilization that no longer seems to know what love is for. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in the coherence of family life in a society in which the family is dissolving.

I don’t know that it will, of course…

No, of course the level-headed Bottum wouldn’t claim to know that it will. Just like we couldn’t, you know, have been absolutely sure at the time that offering incense to the emperor might somehow undermine idolatry, or that denying Christ’s divinity would lead people to embrace His divinity, or that ceding lands to the Jihad would lead to new church construction therein. Hey, it’s all a crap shoot, but we can hope!

Comments (94)

I'm going to be honest, I never know quite how to make an ARGUMENT against same-sex marriage. In conversations or debates I'm never really sure what to say. I mean, like many things that seem insane to me it looks like such a simple, common sense concept that marriage was meant for families, and that a child should have a mother and a father?

Arguing about it with somebody, though, is something else entirely, and I'm never really sure how to defend these views. Pro-life is easy. Abortion is murder, period.

Same-sex marriage seems more complex to me though.

MA, here's the nubbin, just the nubbin, of an argument that I consider to be knock-down when fleshed out, but homosexual activists will never see it: If marriage is just the celebration of a romantic relationship, then the state has no interest in recognizing it. If marriage has nothing to do with the biological foundation of society, then we are totally rudderless and there is no claim of anyone on the institution. Ergo, there is no claim "in justice" for homosexual couples (as opposed to five-somes, a mother and son, or any other combination of human beings) to have their subjective feelings for one another celebrated in this way. There is no logically stable position that supports a "right to homosexual marriage" as opposed to simply opposing the existence of civil marriage tout court. In which case, civil marriage will have to be reinvented from scratch, and if it is reinvented from scratch, there is, once again, no reason to include homosexual couples in it. If civil marriage should exist at all, it is because of the state's interest in promoting stable heterosexual relationships as a stable foundation of history and child-bearing. Absent that, nothing. Not homosexual "marriage," just nothing. The pro-homosexual "marriage" position is intellectually and logically empty. It has no rational basis, only loud rhetoric and cliche-mongering.

MA, I think the problem you are experiencing is that the person you are arguing with is taking off the table, as impermissible theses, those very starting points with which to make the argument in its simplest and clearest way. They want you to leave untouched all of the simple truths that are Soooooo true, SOOOOO forthright, that they don't need saying in decent and upright circles. They want the NORMATIVE experience of heterosexual matrimonial love to be "just a special case" instead of normative.

If all the good, simple, easy premises are removed (if you are forced to start way back from the starting line) then yes, the argument will be very difficult indeed. It requires getting back to metaphysics, the truth of function pointing to purpose pointing to natural ends pointing to natures pointing to the Creator of natures - and HIS purpose shown forth as Exemplar cause of our natures. It forces you to argue that love that of its very nature is sterile cannot be even the

same species
of love that expresses man in his full dimension as a rational, social, matrimonial animal exuding forth new being in cooperation with (and copying) His Creator. And therefore the social / personal / religious / familial ontological reality formed with heterosexual marriage CANNOT be (not "should not be", nor "best not be") the same species of relationship that is formed by 2 homosexuals.

This is the 3rd time in about 6 months I have seen seemingly reputable right-ish thinkers decry the standard natural law approach to the current problems. And all three of them are clearly illogical, non-sensical, pandering attempts to change the discussion without ever really giving even a half-way decent argument for their position. I swear that it looks very much like the forces of Hell have ganged up on Christian pundits to wage outright war on natural law. They are trying with might and main, from the depths of the Pit itself, to get even Christians to abandon natural law. And not just natural law, of course, but all of the social fabric supported by natural law: marriage, rule of law, duties toward others arising from natural relationships and not merely set forth in law...

Jeff, you put your finger on probably the most self-contradictory part of Bottum's piece (if there can be such a most in a piece just riddled with them) - that Bottum's own stated objective of restoring us to a "thick" natural law environment is to be achieved with...lollipops and good wishes. What utter clap-trap stupidity. As overarching policy, that is, as religious PR, upgraded charitable giving is just about useless, given (has Bottum forgotten his own paragraphs above?) that gays/feminists/others are going to shut down SPECIFICALLY CATHOLIC charity when it does not actively promote GLBT rights. Denatured charity that is religiously neutral, shorn of the Gospel message in all its sacrificial, sin-destroying splendor, cannot possibly do a lick of good in bringing back "thick" culture.

One last comment about these natural-law nay-sayers of the supposedly Catholic stripe: they seem, to me, to be usually if not always exactly in line with the modus argumentorum of the Communio persuasion. Bottum's articles years ago in First Things against the death penalty, just for example, stemmed from a highly novel, highly Communio-style probing for new things that were only sort of consistent with 2000 years of traditional teaching, trying to invent a new "tradition" out of mythical (they called it mystical but it never was) connections with an (in their minds) indeterminate historical record of the ancients.

Bottum is right: something good will come about in the future. But he should have taken more to heart Christ's warning: scandal must come, but woe to them that give scandal to others. The fact that God will bring about the ultimate glory of Creation resolving all things in Christ - including evil teachings like Bottum's - means only that He can bring good out of evil, not a license to excuse evil. Bottum is enamored of the "thick" and "thin" theory of religion. In order to use the concept rightly (if that is possible), though, one may have to be *thick-skinned*, but not thick-headed. His effort here is to recommend to us that we become thick-headed because most of society is become dunder-headed. What a dunce!

Lydia, that approach is exactly the one I have begun taking in conversation. Begin with the premise that civil recognition of marriage must have some positive purpose or rationale, and challenge the person to articulate what that is, particularly if biological parenthood and the complimentarity of the sexes has absolutely nothing to do with that interest. As a follow-up point, remind the person that his answer should accommodate the fact that there's never been any public recognition of marriage, anywhere in the world, which did not take biological sex for granted as its basis. Most people really can't establish any reason for public recognition of marriage whatsoever in world where homosexual unions are considered viable candidates, and I've found a lot of them would concede the point that instituting homosexual "marriage" really does just tear down the entire rationale for public recognition of marriage as such. After all, are we really supposed to believe that marriage would still exist in the absence of the birds and the bees? That seems completely untenable, and after all, the onus is on the revolutionary to justify his position.

If marriage is just the celebration of a romantic relationship, then the state has no interest in recognizing it.

The left is increasingly of a mind that men cohabitating with women should have the same burdens of support as a husband before the law. They saw how younger men reacted to no fault divorce and the family courts by shacking up and then cried out that mon... dieu... people change their behavior in response to changes in the law! Granted this is still more "cutting edge left" than "mainstream left" but it's making its way through the left-wing institutions now, so it's only a matter of time before the left begins to take the view that the state has an interest in all romantic relationships--in the name of women's rights.

Mike, I doubt that there will ever be more than a fringe of the left willing to go there, it puts too many crimps into their own personal life-style to get wide-scale support. Plus there are too many men for whom it would be a financial benefit - for whom the women would cry 'foul' because it would be the women who have to pay (after supporting the bums while they lived together).

Not sure what burdens of support Mike is referring to here. That the person with more money has to support the person with less money after they break up, even if there are no children? I believe that sort of pure on-going alimony payment requirement has been repealed in all states long ago for divorces where there are no children, so it would first have to be revived even for married people before it would be applied as "palimony" to unmarried people who break up.

Jeff, thanks for posting the update from Ed Feser. Ed is on a roll there. It's somehow heart-lifting just to read him.

I love all of you guys, but I have to be honest with you - there will always be a special place in my heart for the cutting brilliance of Dr. Feser.

Marcanthony,

Arguing about it with somebody, though, is something else entirely, and I'm never really sure how to defend these views. Pro-life is easy. Abortion is murder, period.

Same-sex marriage seems more complex to me though.

I think it's going to help you out to know just what position you're going to take before walking into the discussion.

Are you against gay marriage, but in favor of civil unions? Are you against gay marriage and against civil unions? Are you arguing that there should be a legal recognition of same-sex sexual attraction as somehow immoral/discouraged altogether? Do you think that, legally, there should be no discrimination on the basis of sexual identity, but certainly on the basis of sexual behavior?

When I actually bother to think things through, I tend to lead with common ground: I am against bullying of gays (in the literal sense of someone slamming a gay kid up against the locker and calling him a fag, etc.) I think if a gay man is being physically attacked by someone who wants to beat him up because he's gay, the proper response is for him to pull out the gun he carries thanks to his concealed carry permit and open fire. I have zero desire to say any gay man fired from, say, his job at the bank just because he's gay. This isn't 'tactic', by the way. It's just sincerity, and I think it's going to come up.

I'll then point out the purpose and definition of marriage. I'll emphasize the secular aspect of it (via natural law, culture, and more). I'll point out the various kinds of heterosexual unions I don't think should qualify as marriage either. I'll argue that even if someone wholly accepts 'gay rights', it's not a foregone conclusion that gay marriage necessarily follows (see what some of the gays in France were saying about it), and that it's not obvious that two gay men who love each other are 'just like a husband and wife or a husband and husband' and the like.

The pattern is: I make myself aware of the common objections to the position, and I shut them down to begin with. Then I explain where I'm coming from, what vision I have of marriage and society. Now, once I do this, my experience is that a lot of people are just plain disarmed. I've seen people dive for absolutely desperate arguments, like 'If you don't have gay marriage then you're discriminating and discrimination leads to violence and there's a direct line of causation from banning gay marriage to a gay guy being beaten to death in the street for being gay'.

This, however, requires a long, drawn out conversation. Most people aren't available for that, and you need to get into more succinct approaches. But that doesn't sound like your issue/concern here.

Hopefully this gives you some insight into one way to approach it.

Tony,

You are arguing that a faction which has a non-trivial percentage of members who want to ban firearms because they seriously believe "if it saves one life, then it's worth it" would be able to figure that out. You are talking about people who often simply cannot grasp the concept that one cause can have many unintended effects (ex: ban guns, save 5 lives now; lose 50 that could have defended themselves tomorrow). The general trend of the left has been to make everyone's sexual behavior everyone else's business for the last at least 15 years if not a generation or more.

MarcAnthony,

I spent about an hour reading through Ed's combox last night and just now by clicking on your name did I figure out you are "malcomthecynic" -- what a small world! I have to admit, once I started reading Ed's blog, then his articles, and then his books -- I just can't get enough!

Crude,

I think your advice is excellent and it dovetails nicely with what Lydia originally suggested. However, there is one idea that bugs me in such discussions and I see it crop up time and time again -- in your case you put it like this:

I have zero desire to say any gay man fired from, say, his job at the bank just because he's gay.

Here's what bugs me about this -- how would anyone know in the first place that this guy is gay? If folks would use old-fashioned tact and discretion, no one needs to know anything about the gay man's personal life. They may wonder why he never talks about any girlfriends or has never married, but if they also use tact and discretion then everyone can do their jobs professionally at the bank and no one needs to be fired (and we don't need silly anti-discrimination laws).

Don't get Crude started Jeff. He loves to derail threads like this when it comes to his personal pet ideas about answering the homosexual agenda. Careful you don't get sucked into the vortex.

Jeff S,

Here's what bugs me about this -- how would anyone know in the first place that this guy is gay? If folks would use old-fashioned tact and discretion, no one needs to know anything about the gay man's personal life.

Well, for one thing... sometimes it's just easy to guess. Guessing isn't perfect, but really, when Rip Taylor 'came out of the closet' was it a big surprise? Sure, not every guy is like Rip Taylor, but for the ones that are, you're immediately in open secret territory.

Second - I don't think old-fashioned tact and discretion works quite as well nowadays. If the guy has a Facebook page, if he ever reveals his sexual orientation on the internet (intentionally or not), it's entirely possible for him to get found out. People snoop. People run checks on their employees. Hell, nowadays, demanding access to a Facebook account to investigate it is, from what I hear, increasingly common on the part of employers. So the problem isn't just his being tactful at work, it's being tactful... not even just '24/7'. One mistake in the past online and he's out, like it or not. Now, maybe you mean 'I just want discretion during work hours', and sure, I don't think the internet justifies being a really obnoxious ass at work too 'because everyone knows'. But if you mean 'If you're being appropriately tactful at work then no one will ever know you're gay', I don't think that works nowadays.

Third, and this is where things are touchier - I want gay Christians to feel support from a community when they are celibate, I want gays against gay marriage for principled reasons (as in France) to have some community support, and that requires, at least in some cases, a certain amount of visibility. I think, in an era where every gay/bi/whatever liberal uses their very existence as ammunition, that a gay/bi/whatever orthodox Christian or celibate Christian or whatnot can do a lot simply by speaking out and offering an alternative view and reasoning. Now, are there a lot of these? Who knows. (I have never seen, say, a poll of gays asking them about whether they support gay marriage. I'd like to see that.) Can there be more than there are? I think so. This gets into a complicated discussion of the state of the world right now, what proper limits of discretion are, what constitutes a tradeoff given the current climate and what constitutes a Proper Attitude regardless of climate, etc. All probably beyond the scope of the thread.

But anyway, that's where I come from on that particular question.

Let's not forget, when it comes to endorsing laws banning "discrimination" for "sexual orientation," that the photography decision just handed down by the NM court was based *solely* on a non-discrimination law, without any recognition even of civil unions by the state. Titus in the other thread holds out some hope that it might be struck down if the SCOTUS hears it, but that remains up in the air. Plus there've been several cases of homosexual going after bakers where I doubt the bakers would be helped by the free speech ("compelled speech") argument which the photographer's lawyers will surely use. So even if you consider yourself some kind of moderate on the matter of being out of the closet or employer discrimination or what-not (I don't consider myself a moderate on that), you might want to reconsider endorsing any such laws. Because they _do_ and _will_ apply to everyone who offers services to the public, and they can apparently be applied to people in all aspects of the wedding business even if homosexual "marriages" aren't recognized in law.

It's important to remember too that once a group has "protected class status" the whole issue of so-called "hostile work environment" comes into play. If another employee of the company over a coffee break has even a perfectly civil conversation in which it "comes out" (pun intended) that he holds traditional moral views, an activist homosexual employee could sue the employer for not preventing a "hostile work environment." The inclusion of "hostile work environment" precedents has made non-discrimination law pretty much a breeding ground for great restrictions on freedom of normal conversation within the workplace.

At least so far, federal discrimination law does not protect sexual orientation. State law may, and federal case "law" may look that way in some cases, but as far as I know it's still hit and miss on that.

Let's not forget, when it comes to endorsing laws banning "discrimination" for "sexual orientation," that the photography decision just handed down by the NM court was based *solely* on a non-discrimination law, without any recognition even of civil unions by the state.

What strikes me as particularly absurd about the photography ruling is the following.

It is my understanding that the problem here was not 'We don't want to take pictures of a gay person.' It was, 'We do not want to take pictures of *two people in this context*.'

Let's say a black man comes to my hypothetical photography shop and wants me to take a picture of him dressed as Hitler. I don't want to take this picture. Did I just discriminate against his race? That seems absurd. Likewise, it seems to me that to have any intellectual bite in this case, this photography couple would have to be saying, 'We don't want to have any business from gay men, period, no matter what the picture is.' But if the complaint is, 'We don't want to take pictures of two people in this context.'? I think there should be zero, absolutely zero, problem with that.

I also draw a line between orientation and behavior. If you keep talking about your sexual activities at work and are fired as a result? I really have no sympathy for you, no matter your 'orientation'. I also realize that the 'hostile work environment' logic is absurd, and last I checked, was hitting the point of "If someone comes out to you, silence or not being supportive will be interpreted as hostility. Therefore you must be supportive." Idiotic, I don't endorse that. Nor am I necessarily endorsing of the entire concept of 'protected classes' as they are currently understood.

Frankly, I think Christians who are hounded by gay couples trying to force them into service should engage in some civil disobedience. I would love to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, if I had the culinary skill. I would craft one hell of a (tasty, entirely edible) insulting monstrosity, and make them pay for it. Photography? I can do some great things with photoshop. Demand I make you a product, and I will. We'll see if you like the result, and I'll make sure to arrange my rules so you have to pay regardless of the outcome.

So no, just because I hold such and such views about these things doesn't mean I buy into the protected class garbage and the rest. I'm talking about idealizations, not things I think are reflected in the laws as they stand.

Photography? I can do some great things with photoshop. Demand I make you a product, and I will.

Hey, that takes it a step farther than I suggested, I like it. I proposed that you simply barf every time they kissed, so your photos all came out wretched. But even better, make your entire collection of photos into a photo-based statement of the insanity of SSM, and when they object, you show them the contract: "photography is an artistic endeavor, and the artist has absolute, final say over both the message he intends to convey and the

means he uses to convey it. The client's preferences about either matter do not control." Then go out and get ACLU to defend your right to use photos to make a statement, "even if that statement offends others." They have a long history of defending (indefensibly) offensive art.

But non-discrimination laws just are what they are. More or less, this is what they've always been. That's because for many traits you really _can_ just be fired whimsically, even if it's unjust. You can be fired for being a meat-eater or a vegan, fired for being a Republican or a Democrat, fired for being too tall, probably fired for being ugly (unless you can wangle a suit for "disability" out of that), fired for being passionately devoted to classic 80's rock-n-roll. Well, you get the picture. Now any number of these firings might be blatantly capricious and unjust. If the entire culture had a bias against meat-eaters, many of us might even have trouble getting a job. Our prospective employers might even dig through our FB profile for evidence of meat-eating.

Slightly more seriously, some employers do discriminate against smokers right now, and there is no legal recourse.

Any one of these things could easily have precisely zero to do with one's capability for the job, but that's tough luck. There's no such thing as a right not to be discriminated against for something-or-other unfairly.

Enter anti-discrimination laws. In the nature of the case, they are only going to address some traits. The inclusion of oneself as a member of a group having one of those traits *just is* what in law is called "protected class status," precisely because that's a group that gets protection which other groups qua groups don't get. You can't have special anti-discrimination laws without that.

Sure, such rules can be *somewhat* more and less draconian. The "hostile work environment" thing was an add-on, but even there, you see how naturally it came about: People would say, "Okay, I'll hire the woman (or the black, or whatever), but don't blame me if the boys make things uncomfortable for her." So the concept of discrimination was extended to attempts to make the person quit by making the job situation unpleasant. Voila. That's how we get the "hostile work environment" extension.

Once admit the very concept of anti-discrimination laws, and it's surprising how naturally much (though not quite all) of this follows.

But I should probably save anything more on this for my thread on Monday Morning Bad News, esp. re. the photographer.

Once admit the very concept of anti-discrimination laws, and it's surprising how naturally much (though not quite all) of this follows.

What I think is key here is that there is a difference between discrimination due to being, and behavior. From what I know, the photographers are not saying 'We don't want to take pictures of any gays'. It's the context they disapprove of. And that, to me, means a world of difference. I think to many others, it would also make a world of difference.

Even many people who are pretty full-on supporters of gay marriage would, I think, not be quite so sympathetic to the case of the guy who was fired not because he was gay, but because 'Yeah, he goes to truck stop gas stations and does unspeakable things every couple of weeks for fun.' Right now, apparently, an overwhelming number of people in the US are sympathetic to the photographers' position in this case, even with gay marriage support at an all time high. There's a lesson there, perhaps.

And it's why I think, even if someone was coming at it from a 'liberal' point of view, what apparently is going on in Arizona is insane. This hinges on what I understand to be the case: it was the context they objected to taking a photo of, not the individuals themselves, gay or not. If that is in fact the case, it seems like that should be trumpeted.

This is the 3rd time in about 6 months I have seen seemingly reputable right-ish thinkers decry the standard natural law approach to the current problems. ... They are trying with might and main, from the depths of the Pit itself, to get even Christians to abandon natural law. And not just natural law, of course, but all of the social fabric supported by natural law: marriage, rule of law, duties toward others arising from natural relationships and not merely set forth in law...

I like the classical Thomistic mode of expression here, as I do with Feser. I have to say that I'm very squeamish about the way the term "biological" is tossed about by others in this type of debate as if it is some sort of synonym for "human nature". So we have have "biological this", and "biological that". So many express what I'd call human nature and natural law in terms of biology, but it just isn't quite right in my view. Something has changed in our view of human nature, and some versions of these views have a lot in common with views antithetical to the classic natural law view. Just as an example, a few centuries ago if you spoke of "natural children", it would have meant they were illegitimate children. The term would have distinguished them from legitimate children, those with acknowledged paternal claims.

Natural inclinations and desires must be placed within the more full human context, a more classical or at least full one, and without that biology falls to the "is/ought" problem and can't get up. It isn't a matter of being some sort of uber traditionalist, it's just that without the full Christian expression of what human nature is, the biological claims don't amount to any more than they would under a Darwinian or naturalist scheme. Anyone can argue that government should be concerned about perpetuation of the species, but how that comes within miles of specifying a proper Christian understanding of humanity including sexuality I don't see. And if you have that full view biological arguments don't feature much in it. I just reached over and grabbed Gary M. Budziszewski's intro to natural law off the shelf and I can't even find the word "biological" in it anywhere.

I meant J. Budziszewski.

This is the 3rd time in about 6 months I have seen seemingly reputable right-ish thinkers decry the standard natural law approach to the current problems. And all three of them are clearly illogical, non-sensical, pandering attempts to change the discussion without ever really giving even a half-way decent argument for their position. I swear that it looks very much like the forces of Hell have ganged up on Christian pundits to wage outright war on natural law. They are trying with might and main, from the depths of the Pit itself, to get even Christians to abandon natural law. And not just natural law, of course, but all of the social fabric supported by natural law: marriage, rule of law, duties toward others arising from natural relationships and not merely set forth in law...

Just to comment on this.

I can understand if the attitude was that 'Few people are going to be convinced by an argument they basically need to read a book about metaphysics and philosophy to figure out.' I agree with that. And I think that rules out - not that I see any NL proponent advocating it - converting the masses by exposing them to Aristo-Thomism and getting them to embrace such and such a metaphysical view. Most people don't understand what metaphysics is. Very few will make the effort to learn. A substantial number are probably fairly incapable of grasping it even if they tried.

In the case of Bottum, though? What I mainly take away from his position is the following: "It's getting to the point where if I hold this position, I'm going to take heat. Far more heat than I'm willing to endure. It's not because the other side has superior arguments or reasoning, but man, they sure have the rage and the self-righteousness on their side, and a willingness to go for the throat. Is it possible for me to abandon my position without looking like a coward? Maybe if I BS wildly. Let's find out."

According to this article - http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/2525/Joseph_Bottum_There_are_a_couple_things_that_I_regret_in_the_article.aspx#.Uh8aTdJhBhx - Bottum has tried to "walk back" some of the conclusions drawn from his article.

Lydia,

It's important to remember too that once a group has "protected class status" the whole issue of so-called "hostile work environment" comes into play. If another employee of the company over a coffee break has even a perfectly civil conversation in which it "comes out" (pun intended) that he holds traditional moral views, an activist homosexual employee could sue the employer for not preventing a "hostile work environment." The inclusion of "hostile work environment" precedents has made non-discrimination law pretty much a breeding ground for great restrictions on freedom of normal conversation within the workplace.

I think Vox Day's black knighting solution is something we ought to try here. It may be offensive to conservative tastes to wield the system's own weapons against it without mercy for the "protected class" members hit by it, but it's the only thing we haven't tried yet.

In the case of Bottum, though? What I mainly take away from his position is the following: "It's getting to the point where if I hold this position, I'm going to take heat. Far more heat than I'm willing to endure. It's not because the other side has superior arguments or reasoning, but man, they sure have the rage and the self-righteousness on their side, and a willingness to go for the throat. Is it possible for me to abandon my position without looking like a coward? Maybe if I BS wildly. Let's find out."

That would be a superficially kindly reading of Bottum's article. But I don't think that it's consistent with the totality of what he actually said. It is possible that he quite horribly mis-stated what he actually meant - and the last link William Luse gave us suggests something of the sort - but he is a professional writer who usually is known for writing fairly precisely, for not charging blindly out without a care for details. Nor would such a reading be any kinder to his real character, it would make him out to be a deceiver, a dissembler for the sake of ease and comfort, making his new approach to be a fictional fabrication for appearances only.

Taking his article at face value, I don't think it can be avoided that he thinks that making the metaphysical argument, teaching the metaphysics, even to the 100 people who will sit still for a 2-year course on it, is not going to be worthwhile endeavor, all it's going to do is perpetuate the myth that Catholicism hates gays. He appears to be saying that THE ONLY useful approach is to stop trying with philosophy, theology, and political theory to even talk about this issue in terms of natural law or even due regard for God's design of man, that you have to sidestep entirely that sort of discussion and simply do acts of love (specifically, acts of charitable giving). Speak with your wallet, not with your mouth.

In his back-tracking conversation with Al Kresta, he proposes that we should stop talking about homosexuality in terms of natural law because

these people who are growing […] to see the Catholic Church as the image and the focus—to use a literary word, as the synecdoche—for all oppression of homosexuals.

Frankly, I think that, used as a so-called reason, simply amounts to cowardice and nonsense. Catholics in early Rome were accused of being cannibals, the response was NOT to cease to talk about receiving Jesus in the sacrament of the altar. Christians were accused of wanting Rome to be destroyed by barbarians because they were (thought of as) pacifists, their response was NOT to stop talking about love of your enemy, doing good to those who hate you.

In all times and in all places, the world has found some element of Christianity to be loathsome and hateful. In all those times, the response of the saints is NOT to put that element of Christianity under a bushel so as to stop showing off that thing that others find hateful. It is the duty of the teachers - especially the bishops, whom Bottum mentions directly - to teach THE WHOLE of the Christian faith, in season and out. That means that they are required to not neglect even those parts of the Christian teaching that are distasteful to the current culture. Indeed, the degree of violent reaction against the message helps to identify precisely what the culture needs to be corrected on.

Christianity doesn't flourish by kow-towing to the world and it's choice of allowable messages, it flourishes by speaking the truth in season and out. Christianity doesn't depend on the world's worldly estimate of popularity, market share, a PR drive with focus groups, or increased giving to charity organizations, it depends on God's grace, and part of how that grace is delivered is through apostles speaking the truth: faith comes through hearing.

Bottum is right that many of the young in the culture won't "hear" the truth when spoken by the Church. It is not our right to decide to stop telling the truth on that account. What about the 1%, or even 0.1% who WILL open their ears to the truth if we speak it. We cannot abandon the few who might be moved by grace to hear us willingly in order to be less uncomfortable to the 99% who will hate the message no matter what.

The net effect of Bottum's article seems to be a personal testimony: hey, I am tired of beating my head against a wall. I want to stop being hated for telling the truth, and I have lost faith in truth to this extent - that truth itself has its own force to persuade even when it appears to be contrary to the culture - and I have lost faith in grace to overcome the world when it opposes the whole of the culture's claims.

So, no, I don't think Bottum is merely dissembling when he says he wants us to give up on speaking truth to the ignorant, I think it's worse than that. He thinks that the reason his friend Jim hates the Church can be laid specifically at the Church's door, in particular at the Church's insistence on teaching the truth, and he thinks that we can short-circuit that hatred by stopping declaring the truth. Well, that my friends is Satan's approach to how to fix the Church.

Crude, I put a comment about non-discrimination, the photography case, etc., in the other thread. I think you'll see in that main post that I'm making a point quite similar to one of yours.

"Here's what bugs me about this -- how would anyone know in the first place that this guy is gay? If folks would use old-fashioned tact and discretion, no one needs to know anything about the gay man's personal life. They may wonder why he never talks about any girlfriends or has never married, but if they also use tact and discretion then everyone can do their jobs professionally at the bank and no one needs to be fired (and we don't need silly anti-discrimination laws)."


It's interesting that this posts acknowledges on one hand that it's normal for people to discuss their romantic relationships while saying that if people started using traditional discretion no one would know if a coworker were gay. I suppose that Jeffrey thinks that gays should remain closeted and that only gays who never let anyone know what they are really like are "discrete" enough for public life. I think I speak for most people under 30 when I say that the attitude that is expressed in this post is unacceptable in modern America.

I can understand if the attitude was that 'Few people are going to be convinced by an argument they basically need to read a book about metaphysics and philosophy to figure out.' I agree with that. And I think that rules out - not that I see any NL proponent advocating it - converting the masses by exposing them to Aristo-Thomism and getting them to embrace such and such a metaphysical view. Most people don't understand what metaphysics is. Very few will make the effort to learn. A substantial number are probably fairly incapable of grasping it even if they tried.

I know you're not taking this position, but there is no reason to believe that a philosophically complex view need be understood here. If that were true, few would have ever believed what common people believed since antiquity. St. Thomas did not innovate at all in anything that would relate to the issue at hand as far as I can tell.

To get people to believe as Thomists do in terms of metaphysics on this issue, you'd need to undermine the opposing naturalistic view of human nature that proposes to explain complex moral behavior. Those who say it makes no difference whether homosexuality is inborn or not to its morality are the ones who should have a massive educational project in mind to convince people of what they'll never believe. If it is accepted that homosexuality is inborn the issue is lost for the Christian position. As far as I can tell only theologians and some philosophers of a certain stripe believe this. I've never met anyone else that did, and I don't expect I will. Now I know Feser and at least one other philosopher I know believe it, and I'd love to see that position argued for and have looked for it. But I've never seen it really argued for, and if anyone knows where it has been I'd love to know. But I'm doubtful it can be argued for without presupposing the equivalence of what was always considered mental and spiritual um ... stuff with physical stuff. The fact that this counterintuitive view is stated or assumed and arguments for it in anything resembling common-sense terms obscure, makes it seem like the point is staking out an explanation for defeat within Christian circles rather than trying for anything more.

Mark,

I know you're not taking this position, but there is no reason to believe that a philosophically complex view need be understood here. If that were true, few would have ever believed what common people believed since antiquity. St. Thomas did not innovate at all in anything that would relate to the issue at hand as far as I can tell.

What are you saying? That you need to understand philosophically/metaphysically complex issues in order to be of the view that, say... same-sex marriage is wrong? I don't believe that, and never said as much. I was specifically talking about the idea that mass conversions based on developed metaphysical/philosophical argument are a route to popular success in the gay marriage argument. I do not think that the tide turned against gay marriage because the public knew, understood and accepted utilitarianism and naturalism or any such thing.

If it is accepted that homosexuality is inborn the issue is lost for the Christian position.

That doesn't seem to be the case at all, anymore than anyone justifies alcoholism based on genetic proclivities.

As for the rest of your comment, I admit I don't understand what you're even saying so I can't comment. Maybe try another explanation.

What are you saying? That you need to understand philosophically/metaphysically complex issues in order to be of the view that, say... same-sex marriage is wrong? I don't believe that, and never said as much.

I know you didn't, and I was trying to make sure you didn't think I was saying that.

I was specifically talking about the idea that mass conversions based on developed metaphysical/philosophical argument are a route to popular success in the gay marriage argument. I do not think that the tide turned against gay marriage because the public knew, understood and accepted utilitarianism and naturalism or any such thing.

My view is this. Any view that relies on a complex argument is going to need the support of the intellectual elites. Traditionally this meant the support came from the academy, and more recently the scientific societies and media trumpeting who it wants to be the winning faction of the latter camp. So the commonsense view is supported by the intellectuals, or it dies. Thomism never rested on the average artisan or farmer being able to give a reasonable account of hylemorphic dualism in the abstract. Thomism simply backed the commonsense view and what people already believed about sodomy and disordered acts (since homosexuality per se wasn't an issue until recently).

Likewise, naturalism and its supporting elements relies on a complex argument supported by intellectuals in the same way. There is a cultural tug of war. But the only thing that matters to the average person is that if "something has been found out" that undermines the traditional view or any of its parts as the case may be, it must be disbelieved even though they never may have understood it to begin with. We all get knowledge from authority, whether we try or can check it any at all or not. No one needs to be able to give an account of what the replacement is–some flavor of naturalism in this case. If there is believed to be something that undermines what went before, then the authority from the previous view is removed whether or not the average person can say what replaced it or not. The new view is believed by default, or at least the old one disbelieved.

If it is accepted that homosexuality is inborn the issue is lost for the Christian position.

That doesn't seem to be the case at all, anymore than anyone justifies alcoholism based on genetic proclivities.

If there were genetic causes for alcoholism, and I don't believe there is any evidence for this (despite the AMA's declaring it in the 70's), would a person would be any more responsible for their alcoholism than they'd be for having mononucleosis or lupis? It seems to me that in that case alcoholics would not be responsible for their actions.

The arguments come down to this:

Position 1) We know that God is good and he made people and the world in such a way that man is morally responsible for his actions, so no causes of moral action could degrade a person's moral responsibility in any case. So we can be agnostic on whether or not causes of moral behavior is inborn since it could not matter in any case. God is good and man is responsible so we can punt all other questions.

Position 2) We know that God is good and he made people and the world in such a way that man is morally responsible for his actions, but we know that some proposed causes of moral actions, if they were true, would remove a person's responsibility for moral action, or at least degrade their comparative responsibility in relation others lacking these causes. Therefore isn't it reasonable to think this is why God did not in fact create physical or genetic causes for moral behavior? If he did and it didn't degrade or remove responsibility, they'd be identical to mental psychological or spiritual causes, and how would the two be distinguished? Greater and lesser genetic causes? Has this ever been proposed?

But the bottom line is that no one except a few theologians and Christian philosophers think that genetic causes won't entirely remove responsibility. I've yet to meet anyone not highly theologically committed who believes it. And yet we're supposed to believe according to the usual suspects there's nothing to worry about. It's an extreme reality denial. Some sort of new scientific Calvinism.

To clarify something. On alcoholism, I don't believe most people actually believe what the AMA said about alcoholism. So that is why I'd agree with you that it "doesn't seem to be the case at all" that people don't hold people morally accountable for it. I'm not sure how many are even aware of the AMA declarations or care about elite or psuedo-scientific opinion. And they don't need to because there is no pressure to treat alcoholics as normal.

But people can hold down jobs while homosexual, and it isn't an impairment to most aspects of limited public functioning, as it is if people stay "in the closet". So the idea that homosexuality is inborn makes it a biological fact akin to gender or disability. And to the extent that people believe that it is inborn, they also believe it is unfair to discriminate as they do with race and such. The logic is flawless. The metaphysics is flawed. The metaphysics is entirely decisive in this case, and you can clearly see this as views on homosexuality shift to the extent that it is considered inborn. To be sure, some would support this in any case but the point is opposition to the homosexual political agenda depends upon thinking that one isn't born that way.

If there were genetic causes for alcoholism, and I don't believe there is any evidence for this (despite the AMA's declaring it in the 70's), would a person would be any more responsible for their alcoholism than they'd be for having mononucleosis or lupis? It seems to me that in that case alcoholics would not be responsible for their actions.

Sure they would be. Genetics don't dictate behavior in the relevant sense. At the absolute best in this case, they dictate an inclination or attraction. Even if you go overboard and utterly dismiss the very concept of free will (complete with all the intellectual incoherency that brings about), you're not going to find that 'inborn trait' means 'I must engage in this act'. That's simply not how genetics works in this case.

No one needs to be able to give an account of what the replacement is–some flavor of naturalism in this case. If there is believed to be something that undermines what went before, then the authority from the previous view is removed whether or not the average person can say what replaced it or not.

I don't find your view of cultural machinations decisive or compelling, really. Cultures also go through phases, through periods of major upheavals, etc. I do agree that 'no one needs to be able to give an account of what the replacement is' and people do tend to parrot what they their superiors say. On the other hand, especially since the onset of the internet, fortunes on this front often shift fairly rapidly on all levels. The overwhelming consensus of 'intellectuals' is that gun ownership is bad, bad, bad. It's been like that for quite a while. And yet people don't care very much about it. In fact, indications are they talk particularly frantic full-on media presses about such things as a signal to arm more.

But the bottom line is that no one except a few theologians and Christian philosophers think that genetic causes won't entirely remove responsibility.

No, I think the bottom line on that front is that only a very few isolated intellectuals think that genetic causes DO entirely remove responsibility. Even the very few people who do tend to think 'science shows people aren't responsible for their actions' - typically Cult of Gnu morons - have extraordinary difficulty acting or even speaking as if people are not responsible for their actions, regardless of what esoteric genetic biases may be discussed.

I've yet to meet anyone not highly theologically committed who believes it.

How could Obama have won the election? Everyone I know voted for Romney! Etc, etc.

Probably more a signal to expand your circle of friends than anything else.

But people can hold down jobs while homosexual, and it isn't an impairment to most aspects of limited public functioning, as it is if people stay "in the closet". So the idea that homosexuality is inborn makes it a biological fact akin to gender or disability. And to the extent that people believe that it is inborn, they also believe it is unfair to discriminate as they do with race and such. The logic is flawless.

85% of people polled recently think it should be entirely legal to 'discriminate' against people owing to same-sex sexual behavior - or at least, to refuse to perform business for them, such as in the case of the Christian photographers. This, while still supporting gay marriage and accepting the morality of whatever behaviors.

And yeah, the logic is actually tremendously flawed. You really seem to think that a proposed genetic inclination towards homosexuality cashes out to 'If a man can't have sex with a man he'll snap and kill someone or won't be able to function' or the like. That's just false. I think a better way of making your point may be, 'People have terrible understandings of science, philosophy, culpability and reasoning. Their logic is terribly flawed. They tend not to care. They react to emotional pleas and other fallacies more reliably, in general.' That much I think is easily argued.

Some sort of new scientific Calvinism.

Actually, it's a misconception about Calvinism that Calvinists believe that man cannot control his own behavior. What Calvinists believe is that man cannot choose salvation, but I've never met (and I used to be one) a Calvinist who believed that, say, a man born with a naturally violent temper was just doomed to kill someone during the course of their life. Calvinism has many flaws, but turning people into truly deterministic machines is not one of them.

It's also apparent that you may be arguing from a false conception of Christian theology based on our 2 proposals because all orthodox branches of Christianity teach that man is born into sin, sin corrupts our mental faculties and yet none of this degrades our responsibility before God.

Kudos to Mark for coherent and interesting moderation in his comments. We'll see how you react to challenge.

I agree with Crude that in your scheme, Mark, the power of "inborn" is overdetermined; and it overestimates the extent to which man is a creature of his inclinations. There are many subtle gradients -- genetic, congenital, inherited, adapted, etc. -- of that which physiologically determines human conduct. And then there is free will on top of that. No doubt alcoholism does run in families -- though how much that is congenital or inborn, how much it is learned or intimated behavior, how much it is habit, addiction: probably these ratios will remain beyond human measurement.

That said, your picture of how received tradition is overthrown by rationalism has much to recommend to it.

I want to call attention to a California bill nearing passage which removes the below organizations from tax exempt status. By the logic of the legislator who wrote this bill, there is no reason not to completely proscribe these organizations from the state. California has written an anti-Christian sedition law.

Little League, Bobby Sox, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Campfire, Inc., Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, Future Farmers of America, Future Homemakers of America, 4-H Clubs, Education Clubs of America, Future Business Leaders of America, Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, Collegiate Young Farmers, Boys’ Clubs, Girls’ Clubs, Special Olympics, Inc., American Youth Soccer Organization, California, Youth Soccer Association, North California Youth Soccer Association, and Pop Warner Football

I suspect we'll hear crickets from the gay marriage enthusiasts.

Crude, you haven't given a single reason for why a person should believe that non-physical and physical causes for moral behavior, if both existed, would function similarly. Your mention of a "relative sense" is question-begging straight up.

85% of people polled recently think it should be entirely legal to 'discriminate' against people owing to same-sex sexual behavior - or at least, to refuse to perform business for them, such as in the case of the Christian photographers. This, while still supporting gay marriage and accepting the morality of whatever behaviors.

I've already said that it is the opposition to the homosexual agenda that depends upon not thinking it is inborn, while the pro-homosexual political agenda does not since they may well not care if they think success is just as likely without trying to argue for or against it either way. Which they very likely do. Why would people argue for what they can there are no real arguments for, while the cultural elites are committed to getting people to assume that very thing without any arguments. If an physical cause is assumed it squashes the opposition side, it obviously doesn't mean that the other side must complete the positive project of providing arguments and evidence for their view.

Since often opposing viewpoints come down to simply stating views, and you won't argue for yours anyway, here's my further take on it.

1) There is no good reason to expect people to believe that physical and non-physical causes would operate in a functionally equivalent fashion, because there are no good reasons to believe it nor are they even given by those who assume it to be true. Moreover, there is no reason to think that physical causes would not be far greater in strength than non-physical at the very least because that is what we see with the other physical causes that can be verified scientifically, and indeed the latter ones we can actually verify are without doubt irresistible and entirely non-moral.

2) There is no good reason to expect people to believe that it is reasonable to hold someone morally blameworthy for what they can't change about themselves. Can anyone offer other examples of this supposed phenomenon? To the extent that people believe causes for moral behavior are physical and/or inborn, they will believe they are not morally blameworthy. This is because they are rational.

This edifice of belief in functionally equivalent physical and non-physical causes is held by those who see themselves as scientific and religious elites, the latter being a vanishingly small group, the existence of which I'm doubtful most Christians are even aware because it is so far from a common sense understanding of things. And it won't be popular to say it, but I think the belief of the latter group itself represents a capitulation to scientism and naturalism. That people are shocked, shocked to see it at higher levels I find nothing short of amazing.

To the extent that people believe causes for moral behavior are physical and/or inborn, they will believe they are not morally blameworthy. This is because they are rational.

I strongly disagree with that. Ever since I was an extremely young child, I've had a fierce temper. Nearly ungovernable at times. It's gradually mellowed with age but continues to be a problem and was still quite severe in my early twenties. I'm adopted, and when I found out more about my biological parents in my early thirties, I learned that my biological father had an explosive temper very similar to mine. He was adept at making the lives of all around him miserable in consequence.

Learning this fact certainly shed some light on my own behavior and inclinations, but it is in no way required by "rationality" for me to conclude that I'm not morally blameworthy if I go up in flames. In fact, it's a good thing that I've never thought that, because patient work on the problem has in fact borne some fruit. This despite the fact that I'm now convinced that the causes are partly physiological and inherited.

Some sort of new scientific Calvinism.

Actually, it's a misconception about Calvinism that Calvinists believe that man cannot control his own behavior.

I'm aware of the tortured logic behind it. I was searching for a metaphor to match the counter-intuitive nature of it, that's all. Maybe the term "living cadavers" or "living dead" from the troubled field of bioethics would have been better to use as an analogy for the currently popular "genetic predisposition" (for moral behavior).

The expression, "it's genetic" plainly does excuse responsibility, whether full or partial. Arguing for the latter is no less problematic in my view. And if physical and non-physical causes are functionally identical, then they don't even do what those who ardently wish for them clearly intend for them to do. If they were functionally identical that would be evidence for physicalist accounts of personhood however. Not that there aren't implications of the various MP accounts of personhood, but that is a different ballgame and the arguments pro and con are all out there and publicly discussed and written about in great detail in any case. But as I've already hinted, I don't see that they are really separate, but the "genetic predispositions" (to moral behaviors) I think is a clandestine attempt to sneak in a subset of that old familiar debate that simply medicalizes certain moral behaviors one-by-one as politically expediency dictates. But it isn't anything new in the debate that has raged since the 17th century at least clearly in Descartes and others to naturalize and medicalize man's most complex and characteristic behavior.

Lydia, anger is not sinful behavior, and I doubt there has ever been a time in human history where people did now know that such characteristics as anger were heritable. Do we know that people with such dispositions toward anger are more sinful? What reason is there to think that?

Mark, the Bible repeatedly warns us not to "give way to wrath." Wrath (presumably, giving way to it, wallowing in it, having a tantrum, etc.) is one of the seven deadly sins. Scripture says that the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. I could go on and on with condemnations of wrathfulness from tradition and revelation. There is ample evidence that being by temperament a wrathful type of person, which one can't help, does predispose one to struggle with sinful "giving in to" anger, which one can help and should help. That it does so predispose a person to that particular type of sinful behavior is something that anyone like me can attest to from ample experience. Just take our word for it, if you don't have this particular problem. Examples of the same kind could be multiplied pretty much ad infinitum. Some people have more trouble controlling lust than others. Some find themselves struggling more with overeating than others. Etc., etc.

I doubt there has ever been a time in human history where people did now know that such characteristics as anger were heritable.
But it isn't anything new in the debate that has raged since the 17th century at least clearly in Descartes and others to naturalize and medicalize man's most complex and characteristic behavior.

Mark, sometimes your double negatives twist me around so much I can't figure out which direction you are going, so I might have misunderstood you. At least since the ancient Greeks, people have been extremely clear that the condition of the body, both in terms of long-term condition and short term, even momentary condition, has an effect on one's capacity to act well. And that these conditions can influence motivations without controlling action or leading to non-responsibility for behavior. Lydia's example of rage is one. Nobody needs to think anger is itself sinful to understand that a physical predisposition to anger presents a frequent push toward sins of anger. And the Greeks thought that this kind of disposition came at least partly from an imbalance in the body - typically an imbalance of the humours (such as bile). Today, we are very clear that there are conditions that lend themselves, as pushes, to inappropriate behavior, which can be corrected with medicine. Just because a child is given to impulsivity because of ADHD doesn't mean that we think he is ENTIRELY blameless when he impulsively whacks a kid over the head for a trivial (real) offense.

Which is all to say that we widely recognize a middle state (b) that lies between (a) having a physical-based cause of disposition toward inappropriate behavior, which makes you wholly non-culpable for that behavior, and (c) having no physical cause that impedes or obstructs full responsibility for that poor behavior, namely (b) the condition in which you have a physically-based cause of a disposition, but the disposition while reducing culpability a little does not remove culpability entirely.

This is exactly in line with the classic moral theology which teaches that there are certain causes that reduce culpability, including ignorance, fear, habit, and coercion, because all of these make the act less free without making the act wholly involuntary Everything from penal theory to basic stimulus-response models to parental rule-setting recognize such intermediate conditions of responsibility.

There is nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that I am aware of in any of the public discussions of gay behavior, that attempts to argue that homosexuality being physically-based means that it eradicates responsibility for homosexual behavior. To the extent that I can see, 15 years ago there was an implied argument to this effect when they first started claiming there was a gay gene (which is no longer claimed), but they never tried to argue it directly because it is so laughably nonsensical. No, the current thrust isn't an argument at all, so much as a sequence of non-sequitors: I am made that way. So I act that way. QED. Sure, some people imagine that there is some kind of argument in that, but really the MSM and the gay movement stopped trying to reason toward their position, it's all emotional appeals now, not appeals to reason.

Tony, you're conflating internal causes with external causes generally. That is very, very far from classic moral philosophy or theology. I think it is fair to say that the classic moral view would say it is a middle state in terms of virtue if someone require virtue compared to someone who doesn't. But conflating supposed internal physical causes of behavior and external coercive impediments to behavior is way, way off. Not in any way a part of a classic moral view.

This is the kind of cognitive dissonance that happens when you try to merge two fundamentally different systems of MP and/or belief. Things that are incommensurable are mashed up and terms are changed and it all seems to make sense if you assume things that you really can't. And if you think genetic causes don't establish it as normal, I guess you've missed the magazine covers of every major magazine I can think of for many years.

Lydia, the Bible repeatedly warns us against a lot of things, but it also says "be angry and sin not". And Christ was angry on a number of occasions such that people ran in terror. The Bible has many passages that seem to declare the evil of pride, and yet who among us has not wished and said the young and others should have more of it? Taking things over literally when it suits us is a recipe for falling victim to the winds of current cultural fashion. This means that tossing Bible passages out isn't going to work, and we're in the realm of philosophical theology now, and need to be to communicate in a fruitful way on this topic.

I'm amused that you're implying that I don't have any special problems with anger. Let's just say the subject of spiritedness is very complex, and there is a vast literature on it. Again, I think it is question-begging. Does a fine palate incline one towards gluttony, or away from it? And on and on with each quality you could name. And in any case none of this says anything about whether these dispositions are physical or not. Is a fine palate the result of better taste buds, or is it a psychological disposition to focus attention on whatever taste buds one has, or lack of attention that explains lack of a fine palate?

And even if there were genetic predispositions to lower level things such as that, homosexuality as we're considering it here is a wildly complex behavior in comparison. As with the former, it is based on lower level natural (or unnatural) things. As has already been mentioned by someone I think, it is a new concept. In the past it was not distinguished from disordered acts that one could perform with inanimate objects. The social phenomenon is as socially complex as heterosexuality, with its cultural forms of support for attraction and such. The idea that urges similar to what animals satisfy by rubbing against posts or children without full awareness in a crib represent dispositions towards either one I think is not credible. Its like thinking there might be a genetic or physical cause to be a seamstress, rather than just an available way to use one's skills that are a combination of inborn and acquired talent?

Tony, you're conflating internal causes with external causes generally. That is very, very far from classic moral philosophy or theology. I think it is fair to say that the classic moral view would say it is a middle state in terms of virtue if someone require virtue compared to someone who doesn't. But conflating supposed internal physical causes of behavior and external coercive impediments to behavior is way, way off. Not in any way a part of a classic moral view.

Fr. Kenneth Baker:

Very closely related to the notion of responsibility is the idea of "imputability", which means that one may be declared the free author of an action and may be held responsible for it. The more free the action is, the more imputable it is, and vice versa. Thus, when we speak about moral responsibility and imputability we are touching on something that is at the very heart of all moral activity.

Since a person can act with more or less knowledge and with more or less freedom, it follows that any restriction on knowledge or freedom will also affect the personal responsibility or imputability of the act. Since man is very limited and is open to a number of influences, we find that there are many obstacles or impediments to fully human acts -- all of which affect moral responsibility in one way or another.

Some of the factors that can diminish or altogether remove imputability are: ignorance, emotion or passion, fear, bad habits, violence, hypnosis, drugs and mental illness. All of these affect either a person’s mind or his will, or both, and to the extent that they do, they lessen responsibility.

Fr. Thomas Slater, 1925: "A Manual of Moral Theology"

Concupiscence is antecedent or consequent. The former precedes any action of the will, and so is involuntary. The latter is voluntary, either because it is deliberately and directly excited by the will, or at any rate willed in its cause.

2. Antecedent concupiscence lessens the malice of an evil action which is done under its impulse. For concupiscence troubles the intellect, so that it cannot dispassionately weigh the moral quality of the object proposed to the will and the motives for rejecting it; moreover, concupiscence paints the object in more than naturally attractive colours, so that it exerts an undue influence on the will. Concupiscence thus disturbs the indifference of the will and renders the act which follows less voluntary and free. It is accordingly less imputable to the agent....[snip]

2. The actions which are done out of fear are simply voluntary, but hey are usually also involuntary under a certain respect. There is no question here of actions which are done in fear or with fear, as when I walk with fear and trembling along a lonely road by night. We are concerned with the effect which fear has on human actions done in consequence of fear ; and unless it deprives the agent of the use of reason, which in rare cases may happen, the action remains voluntary, because it is done freely and deliberately to avoid the threatened danger. In such circumstances, as we saw above, the action is said to
be simply voluntary ; but it is also involuntary under a certain respect, for, unless the danger threatened, the action would not be done...

3. Inasmuch as bad actions done through fear are simply voluntary, it would follow that they are imputable to the agent, so that fear does not excuse him from sin. And this is true of such actions as are intrinsically bad and against the natural law. The Church has always considered those to be apostates who through fear of death or persecution deny their faith, though less culpable than those who renounce it without excuse (Can. 2205)....[snip]

A formal sin is committed knowingly and wilfully; a material sin is committed without knowledge or free consent.

Sin is said to be against God, our neighbour, or ourself, as it is against some virtue which immediately regards God, or our neighbour, or ourself. All sin is ultimately against God.

Sins of ignorance are committed through culpable ignorance; sins of infirmity through passion or bad habit; sins of malice with cool deliberation and forethought. The last, as is obvious, are the least excusable.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Prima Secundae, Question 6, Articles 6 and 7

I answer that, As the Philosopher says (Ethic. iii) and likewise Gregory of Nyssa in his book on Man (Nemesius, De Nat. Hom. xxx), such things are done through fear "are of a mixed character," being partly voluntary and partly involuntary. For that which is done through fear, considered in itself, is not voluntary; but it becomes voluntary in this particular case, in order, namely, to avoid the evil feared.

But if the matter be considered aright, such things are voluntary rather than involuntary; for they are voluntary simply, but involuntary in a certain respect...[snip]

I answer that, Concupiscence does not cause involuntariness, but on the contrary makes something to be voluntary. For a thing is said to be voluntary, from the fact that the will is moved to it. Now concupiscence inclines the will to desire the object of concupiscence. Therefore the effect of concupiscence is to make something to be voluntary rather than involuntary.

Reply to Objection 1. Fear regards evil, but concupiscence regards good. Now evil of itself is counter to the will, whereas good harmonizes with the will. Therefore fear has a greater tendency than concupiscence to cause involuntariness.

Mark, there are certainly reasons to consider interior versus exterior causes of constraints to freedom. But BOTH classes would cause an act to be less free. And considered generally, those things that cause an act to be less free but not wholly involuntary would leave the act to be cupable but reduced in blame. And it is clear from the above that according to classic teaching of morality, because of impediments to full freedom there are indeed middle states of voluntariness that cause acts to be less voluntary but still voluntary enough to be blameworthy. And that both interior and exterior causes fit into this class.

I allow that genetic causes generally, like other physical causes (and as Fr. Baker says above), could be impediments to voluntariness. A person whose genes or other physical causes makes him to be psychotic may be completely or only partially inculpable for a horrible act. It is irrelevant here, though, whether such causes can only be in X or Y facets of the physical organism.

Whether a physical cause then changes an act from being entirely voluntary to being imperfectly voluntary or absolutely involuntary is then the next question. And it cannot be answered in the generic for "all physical causes", because clearly some physical causes utterly remove voluntariness and others only reduce it.

It would be difficult, if not entirely nonsensical, to produce a solid argument showing that for all acts of homosexual sex, they arise in a completely involuntary manner. For one thing, the timing, place, and person of the acts are clearly under the conscious choice of the actor as voluntary.

This is the kind of cognitive dissonance that happens when you try to merge two fundamentally different systems of MP and/or belief. Things that are incommensurable are mashed up and terms are changed and it all seems to make sense if you assume things that you really can't. And if you think genetic causes don't establish it as normal, I guess you've missed the magazine covers of every major magazine I can think of for many years.

There is no need to get snippy here, dial back a bit please.

What I think you mean is that (according to the gay position) physical causes such as genes change the determination of what is in itself a naturally good act or an (un)naturally bad act. So that what I could be conflating (as you tried but failed to say) is rather causes of diminished voluntariness to bad acts with causes which change the nature of acts themselves so that what is inherently a bad act for X is a normal act for Y.

I grant that there is an undercurrent to MSM's constant barrage for the last 15 years to the implicit conclusion that having a gay gene (or other physical cause that controls the formation of the individual, because scientists are pretty agreed there is no gay gene) would thereby redefine "normal" for that individual.

I deny that they have undertaken to MAKE THAT ARGUMENT explicitly. Not in detail. Not actually trying to specify premises and conclusions, and making sure that the premises were not presuming what they are trying to prove. I haven't seen such arguments, and I welcome you to show me otherwise.

The problem is clear: THAT THERE IS a physical cause which constitutes an internal directedness toward a sort of action cannot, by itself, define normality for that person. We see that with physical causes that make a person a homicidal psychotic: murder is not "normal" for him, we don't say "given what he is, murder is a fine and noble act for him". We say rather that he is broken, deformed, ill, and murder is an evil act for which he is (wholly or partially) not culpable. The act remains abnormal for him, and his interior abnormality is an abnormality for him, whether the physical cause is in his genes, his epigenetic markers, or some less definitive source.

So even granting that there is an interior physical cause that constitutes an internal directedness toward homosexual sorts of behavior, that cannot, by itself, constitute the entirety of the argument that this makes homosexual behavior "normal for him". There is, logically, more needed for the argument to go forth. And generally, you don't find anyone trying to make the rest of that argument. What I have seen, dozens of times, is a simple assumption that the one premise proves the point. Well, it doesn't.

At this point, even asking for the remaining required steps in the argument is considered to be offensive and barbaric to strongly leftist groups. They have manipulated the environment of the public discourse to now make it impossible to debate the question in good faith and in the general public, AS IF they not only not only answered the questions but did so definitively and exhaustively, with such utter and absolute certainty that even to question further proves bad faith. Which is all very manipulative, given that they avoided the real argument from the first moment of debate.

So, getting back to your statement:And if you think genetic causes don't establish it as normal, I guess you've missed the magazine covers of every major magazine I can think of for many years. The imprecision in your use of the pronoun "it" in this context makes for a very ambiguous comment. I deny the words "establish it" in its sense of "establishing a provable conclusion" the theory that "homosexual acts are morally normal for gays," as the way real science, math, and so on proceed, because no, nobody in science or MSM has had that proof as an objective and they definitely didn't succeed in doing so along the way. They were intent on portraying homosexuality as normal regardless of any argument about the theory. I admit the sense of "establishing" in the sense of their creating a prevailing, unsupported but strongly presumptive attitude and belief about the matter, creating a popular model of not thought but feeling that the matter has been settled by the experts, as if the experts had considered the arguments and settled them definitively. Nothing could be further from reality, NOBODY in the pro-gay arena has attempted to publicly make the argument in a decently non-circular manner.

And in any case none of this says anything about whether these dispositions are physical or not.

Well, you just admitted that dispositions to rage are heritable, so I would assume that that's either physical or else some heritable component of the soul (if that's a meaningful metaphysical concept).

Mark, as far as I'm concerned Tony has answered you patiently, even repeatedly, on the relationship between responsibility and partially heritable physical causes. You've just blown it off. He isn't conflating anything. He and several of us have given you example after example that refutes the idea that _rationally_ a person isn't responsible for his sinful actions if he has a heritable disposition toward those actions. Now, you may say that people generally think too crudely to understand that. But the point is that _you_ seem to be saying that any notion of heritable or other physically medicated disposition toward homosexual behavior rules out personal responsibility.

You're now moving on to the question of whether it's probable that there is such a disposition, but that's a separate question. The initial question was your insistence that if there were, it would take away personal responsibility. How complex the behavior is is not relevant to that theoretical question. On the theoretical point, we've answered you again and again.

Well, you just admitted that dispositions to rage are heritable, so I would assume that that's either physical or else some heritable component of the soul (if that's a meaningful metaphysical concept).

I never doubted that you'd think heritable means genetic. I obviously don't.

Mark, as far as I'm concerned Tony has answered you patiently, even repeatedly, on the relationship between responsibility and partially heritable physical causes. You've just blown it off.

Cut the crap Lydia. Opposing views often come down to stating these views since they're incommensurable. I'm no more blowing him off than he is me. I didn't "move" on to complexity by mentioning a further difficulty that would come up eventually if the line of reasoning were followed.

Tony, you seem to think I'm denying that culpability is degreed. I can't imagine why you'd think that. I'm sorry if I was snippy. I'll just restate my critique of what you said individually and my view together, which is what we always do.

Look, I don't know of anyone who doesn't think that our chemical makeup can affect our moods. Most of us have seen this demonstrated. Does excess caffeine cause one to sin? I've seen mood swings with cancer patients. I've seen someone very close to me undergo severe personality changes due to medication (an unfortunate treatment choice by a misguided doctor I think caused us to switch doctors and treatment). He became quite annoying, but all through a long and difficult time I never saw him do anything wrong from when it started at one mood extreme to when it finally shifted to the other extreme of melancholia as a doctor had to try to get him normalized before we could even consider embarking on a different cancer treatment plan. From extreme euphoria to extreme melancholia over weeks and months, I never saw him do anything immoral or sinful. Is being overly talkative immoral? It is certainly annoying. Is being withdrawn immoral? He was never a harm to himself or others because he stayed on this side of insanity. If he hadn't it would have been a different story, but what is new about the idea that chemical imbalances can cause insanity and remove responsibility? That certainly could incline someone to what they wouldn't do when they were sane. Our legal and medical systems have always recognized this, even if it has been abused by expansive and creative interpretations in later times.

You mentioned the Greeks and their beliefs about bile (humorism). It is a discredited theory overall, but it does certainly show that the belief in chemical affects to the mind are not new. But look at what they believed. They believed this supposed excess of certain chemicals could cause *diseases* of the body and mind. I have no trouble whatever with this. I agree. The unfortunate thing is that they though meloncholia was a disease itself. It isn't unless it drives one to insanity. Lincoln had it. Edgar Allen Poe had it. Many of us have it in degrees. Clear up until a few decades ago melancholia was considered a disposition to be artsy, sensitive, thoughtful, and to have superior giftings. There was always thought to be a relationship between genius a type of "madness". But a connection to immoral behavior? Not so much. And if you look at Greek humorism they don't ascribe to it what you are, and it seemed to work remarkably similar way to our understanding of dopamine and serotonin levels. How this shows anything other than the common belief between a link between chemicals and moods I don't see. Making the jump from moods to immoral behavior generally isn't warranted.


Today, we are very clear that there are conditions that lend themselves, as pushes, to inappropriate behavior, which can be corrected with medicine. Just because a child is given to impulsivity because of ADHD doesn't mean that we think he is ENTIRELY blameless when he impulsively whacks a kid over the head for a trivial (real) offense.

"Inappropriate behavior?" That is curious language. Is "inappropriate behavior" necessarily immoral? Nope, it certainly isn't. I hope you'd agree with me it repudiating the view that a thing like not being able to sit still in a chair is immoral. This is the result of a changing educational paradigm? Isn't it true the rise of compulsory education and modern educational methods that are at an increasing variance from human nature at fault? So that now school classrooms arbitrarily punish behavior that was once considered normal? If so that is itself immoral. Does anyone really not know what amphetamines do or why?

But if you're equating "inappropriate" with immoral behavior, I understand where the disconnect between us is much better. Inappropriate behavior is not only sometimes permissible, but often the only way to do virtuous or moral acts. I never said that there couldn't be physical causes of inappropriate behavior. If I drink to much caffeine I probably talk to much and become annoying, or perhaps just more annoying than usual, but I don't think it inclines me as towards immoral acts. There is a vast gulf between difference between inappropriate" and immoral. Not observing the distinctly moral aspects of this argument explains a great deal about the dispute.

*facepalm*

Mark, your incorrigible bad manners, combined with an occasionally impenetrable writing style, and a bizarre forgetfulness of what you've already written, always lands you in trouble.

Why might someone think you're denying that "culpability is degreed"? Well, because earlier you wrote things like:

If there were genetic causes for alcoholism ... would a person would be any more responsible for their alcoholism than they'd be for having mononucleosis or lupis? It seems to me that in that case alcoholics would not be responsible for their actions.

And this:

To the extent that people believe causes for moral behavior are physical and/or inborn, they will believe they are not morally blameworthy. This is because they are rational.

And this:

it is the opposition to the homosexual agenda that depends upon not thinking it is inborn

More examples could be supplied, but I'm not wasting another moment on this.

Tony, let me elaborate a bit about the mixing of internal and external causes. In this mixing you tossed in coercion with ignorance, fear, and habit to try to establish some middle ground of ground where acts might be "less free without making the act wholly involuntary". In trying to stake out a middle ground of responsibility in a certain sense, you've omitted the grounds for it. The classic moral tradition clearly contained as fundamental the understanding that voluntariness was a necessary condition for holding one responsible for one’s actions. There is no dispute about this.

Anyway, the classic view included the understanding that coercion reduces or even eliminates responsibility depending on the degree of coercion (and therefore lack of voluntariness), and blameworthiness, if any, is adjusted accordingly. This clearly means that responsibility was not understood as some sort of cosmic absolute around which everything must revolve on earth regardless of the circumstances or metaphysical assumptions. It is not absolute in any sense but a cosmic order, which is not what classic moral tradition deals with. The classic tradition does clearly show that in earthly life responsibility can be reduced or eliminated to the degree that voluntariness is reduced or eliminated. So it is extremely well-grounded in the classic tradition that responsibility is not an absolute, and I see no good reason whatever to think that the account of responsibility contained within the classic tradition can be assumed and merely transferred without significant modifications when the MP environment it was developed for and with has been abandoned.

Bottom line is that if there were physical causes for moral behaviors there is no reason to believe they wouldn't act internally as coercion does externally to remove responsibility, and not at all unlike the psychic entities with which they are being assumed functionally identical. And it bears repeating in these terms that there is no voluntariness at all in the only proven physical causes that we know, as there is none in the case of extreme coercion.

I say again, it is clear that moral responsibility in this life is not some sort of cosmic absolute around which everything revolves regardless of the metaphysical makeup of the world. It simply baffles me why people think it is. Why is it more plausible that a) God made physical causes that don't affect responsibility?, as opposed to the view that b) physical causes would degrade the moral order given the MP makeup of this world, and that is why there aren't any? The latter was the classic view. A cursory of the literature of the Western tradition shows the well-founded fears of what would happen if people believed what was false.

Again, I've said or tried to strongly hint that my argument if we were to continue it does not depend upon denying that physical causes for moral behavior, if they existed, couldn't be resistible. I don't see any reason to think they aren't, I know they needn't be, and the only physical internal causes we've actually proven are not. But I'm willing to entertain for the sake of argument that they could be, but the problem would still be no grounds for pretending they were functionally identical. If they are resistible, by who? When? And how? How would they not trump psychic entities? You don't have to answer this, but those who believe them shouldn't those who posit their existence have the burden of explaining the grounds for thinking them functionally equivalent? I could expand my argument, but I won't at this point and I don't see why I should do all the work since it isn't my burden and it isn't my supposition to begin with.

Look, I hope I wasn't snippy above. Didn't intend to be. But all we can do is state our positions since it isn't even clear we both have the same view on the distinction between immoral behavior and merely inappropriate behavior. I think we can all agree that disagreement on that would determine this debate entirely. And assumptions about stuff like that do determine the debate entirely to the less informed masses.

More examples could be supplied, but I'm not wasting another moment on this.

And you shouldn't Paul. Because the quotes you selected to posit as absurd is pretty revealing. It shows a full investment in the idea that we can rely on a cosmic external order unrelated to the degree it is internalized by humans. Think about that.

And have you ever heard anyone say "You say the murder rate is high? Well, it makes no difference, because we know God holds them accountable in the end."

The idea that if an external standard is no longer internalized it will have no serious effect on the moral order and that we can carry on as if nothing has happened and expect people to become fideists and still declare it wrong even though they don't know why. Like athiests celebrating Christmas because it feels good.

The idea that we can let the scientists scramble parts of the classic MP understanding of God's place in nature that grounded the classical moral tradition and retain that tradition as it was is misguided. It has been openly admitted by honest libs for many years that they see naturalism as allowing a guiltless sexual libertinism. Again, I'm not talking about some thorough going Platonism or Thomism. I doubt that many people understood that in any detail. I'm simply talking about a few of the ideas the old structures supported that were widely understood and believed. Such as that behavior of moral import such as homosexuality isn't inborn. Now even though nothing new has been discovered scientifically to counteract this, we're supposed to believe it anyway or we'll seem like Luddites.

It shows a full investment in the idea that we can rely on a cosmic external order unrelated to the degree it is internalized by humans.

I don't know what that means. I pulled the quotes for one purpose: to show that a reasonable reader, plowing through your comments, might indeed come to the conclusion that you deny that "culpability is degreed." It now seems clear that, on the contrary, you do agree that culpability varies along a gradient which depends on many factors, internal and external, heritable and learned, genetic and chemical, and much more besides.

A part of me would like to know if you still believe "the opposition to the homosexual agenda depends upon not thinking it is inborn," but I'm content to just leave things as they stand, and not get embroiled in another murky dispute.

Well, I will give it just one more try. Mark, your conversational approach leaves me wondering whether you are actually trying to understand what I am saying. If not, then I will stop trying. Why might I wonder? Well, when you say things like this

Opposing views often come down to stating these views since they're incommensurable. I'm no more blowing him off than he is me...[snip]... I'll just restate my critique of what you said individually and my view together, which is what we always do.

it leaves me in doubt that you think a conversation is supposed to have forward progress, or whether you know anything about how to achieve it. On the hypothesis that the answer is in the affirmative, I will proceed. I said

Just because a child is given to impulsivity because of ADHD doesn't mean that we think he is ENTIRELY blameless when he impulsively whacks a kid over the head for a trivial (real) offense.

You replied:

"Inappropriate behavior?" That is curious language. Is "inappropriate behavior" necessarily immoral? Nope, it certainly isn't. I hope you'd agree with me it repudiating the view that a thing like not being able to sit still in a chair is immoral...

But if you're equating "inappropriate" with immoral behavior, I understand where the disconnect between us is much better... There is a vast gulf between difference between inappropriate" and immoral. Not observing the distinctly moral aspects of this argument explains a great deal about the dispute.

But I gave an example of a certain sort of inappropriate behavior, and you ignored it, substituting your own "not being able to sit still". I will accept that not sitting still is an artificially created form of so-called inappropriate behavior that is still moral, if you will admit that a kid smacking another kid over the head with a book, or a board, or a swing, (for a trivial offense) is both inappropriate and immoral. I had absolutely no intention of derogating the behavior at issue to merely "out of place" or irritating, I was STILL talking about immoral behavior, as you might have credited me with had you given me the least benefit of the doubt or actually considered my example. Unless you want to say that immoral behavior is appropriate.

How this shows anything other than the common belief between a link between chemicals and moods I don't see. Making the jump from moods to immoral behavior generally isn't warranted.

Certainly we can multiply innumerably examples where the chemicals (and other physical states) affect moods and not morality directly. But to blithely assume that MOODS in their turn don't tend to affect behavior for good or ill, is just silly. The saints repeatedly warn us against letting foul moods push us into bad behavior, telling us over and over that even when we are feeling horrible we should still be kind, polite, just, etc - that our actions should be actions stemming from right reason and love EVEN WHEN we don't feel like it. I don't know whether you just want to blow off all that saintly advice, or what.

More silly still is it to assume that there aren't OTHER physical states that are, themselves, a more direct push toward immorality. Drunkenness is not a determinate cause of lust, but it certainly leads toward it in many cases, having the NET effect that people enter into sexual immorality that they wouldn't if they were sober. The physical impact of the alcohol lessens inhibitions, including the inhibitions of restraint from sexual license, and at the same time the behavior of drunkenness affecting temperance (the virtue that regulates goods of the bodily appetites) in one respect damages temperance in other respects. The drunkenness makes other acts of morality harder, and eases a descent into new acts contrary to temperance and chastity - all without actually CAUSING (definitively) immoral acts.

Or, to take your own example of melancholia (a mood) and depression (a psychological condition). Nobody can deny that these TEND to cause suicide in people who suffer them. When the suicide is wholly inculpable, the act stems so much from the condition as to remove voluntariness. But in other cases we have every reason to think (from understanding the sufferer's own descriptions of their internal states) that voluntariness is not completely eradicated, but they still do evil acts. And that the mood or illness is definitely a cause of the act in some sense, because they would not have done the act had they "been on their meds," or whatever. We wouldn't recognize depression as even a potential excuse for suicide it we didn't have plenty of evidence that depression creates a tendency toward that specific behavior.

So to me it seems that what you are trying to do is gloss over things that AFFECT behavior in certain broad directions without deterministically causing specific acts. Nobody in this discussion was suggesting even remotely that physical conditions of the body deterministically cause specific behavior. Behavior as it springs out of the human soul is generally more complicated. But not every aspect of it is completely mysterious, we ALL recognize things that *influence* behavior toward good or ill, even when we cannot identify the entire pathway of that influence. And such influence can be toward definite forms of immoral behavior even when it leaves the person free to act well.

So, getting back to your statement: And if you think genetic causes don't establish it as normal, I guess you've missed the magazine covers of every major magazine I can think of for many years.

So far, I haven't seen one decent argument in any location, magazine or other, that purports to establish that ANY class of physical conditions, whether heritable or not, make homosexual behavior as normal-for-them. If you have, show me. Generally, gay supporters avoid the issue like the plague because they are unwilling to grapple with the essential questions, like "what does it mean to be normative?" Because that gets into teleology, final causality, final goods, objective hierarchies of good, and so on - all things they don't want to discuss.

Oh, and by the way, don't tell Lydia to cut the crap. That's not the way to pursue a conversation here.

And as a second aside, we have seen that you frequently, almost typically, leave out qualifiers or conditions that are needed in order to understand your comments. For example, you said

Inappropriate behavior is not only sometimes permissible, but often the only way to do virtuous or moral acts.

I am pretty sure by "Inappropriate behavior" you mean behavior that is CALLED inappropriate by somebody or other, often by somebody who thinks they have the authority to decide whether it is "appropriate" but they don't really. But by saying it is "the only way to do virtuous acts" you are, I think (but I think it with doubt and with hesitation), implying that the person who is objecting to the behavior is in the wrong about the matter, they only THINK it is inappropriate, when it really is appropriate. But the way you phrased it could EASILY have left a reader thinking that you thought TRULY improper behavior could sometimes be moral, which would either make it not actually improper at all, or would make morality not a proper rule of behavior, both of which are incoherent. All of that could be easily avoided if you had simply said "so-called inappropriate behavior" or "apparently inappropriate behavior".

So it is extremely well-grounded in the classic tradition that responsibility is not an absolute, and I see no good reason whatever to think that the account of responsibility contained within the classic tradition can be assumed and merely transferred without significant modifications when the MP environment it was developed for and with has been abandoned.

Somehow you seem to think I am transferring concepts from classical moral philosophy to some more modern account. Well, let me set your mind at ease: I am not. My account was simply supposed to be applying classical moral philosophy to a situation where someone PROPOSES as a supposition that there is some physical state that tends to cause homosexual orientation.

As Fr. Baker shows in his quote above, physical causes and moral "entities" like habits are, together, understood to have the potential to eliminate culpability either in part or in whole. No part of classical teaching that I have ever seen suggests that of the class of impediments to voluntariness, some of them can ONLY operate by removing voluntariness as a whole, not in part. It's not in St. Thomas, and I have never seen it anywhere else. So if you think it is part of this discussion, it is your burden to create the argument.

But even if a homosexual gene (or other causal physical state) operates so as to remove responsibility as a whole (a truly novel theory, one which gays won't thank you for imposing on them), it would STILL leave untouched the standard, classical teaching that gay acts of sex are unnatural, abnormal for them.

I can't imagine any reasonable person could deny that culpability is degreed. They'd have to rewrite every human language and legal system if it weren't. Of course I agree with that.

A part of me would like to know if you still believe "the opposition to the homosexual agenda depends upon not thinking it is inborn," but I'm content to just leave things as they stand, and not get embroiled in another murky dispute.

Well Paul. I'm still trying to figure how to understand how everyone here willing to talk wants to deny ever hearing the idea that whether homosexuality is inborn might influence whether one thinks it is immoral or not. When you decried the actions of Chris Christie in new Jersey just days ago, in the speech he "reiterated his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin." Was that linkage novel? Was there any indication that anyone thought the linkage was novel? Did it seem superfluous to him? No, no, and no. It is a commonplace. I think the logic is flawless. It was always thought that ethics depended on metaphysical underpinnings. This belief itself was also was a part of the classic moral tradition, which also provided authority to ground a commonsense view. The authority is now removed as Christians with naturalized understandings try to merge classic moral philosophy with naturalism. Chris Christies are the result, or at least the fact that all this crowd can do is shake their heads. No arguments for Gov Christie are forthcoming.

This aforementioned logic has been repeated over and over for decades, and with megaphones as with Christie. How people can deny this with a straight face baffles me. Why they don't seem to argue with the logic of folks who believe this if they think the logic is misguided I don't get. I think the logic is flawless. It is the supporting belief that it is inborn and at not a matter of choice even if environment didn't allow for choice early on as it clearly does not always in a host of moral issues.

It is also huge that the classic moral tradition and Christian theology has a view about how we should think about people in habituated sins like this for many years that fly in the face of the current naturalistic assumptions. On this account it is cruel to provide counseling because it is easier to follow a supposed natural path than to fight it since one can never be fully temperate where it isn't a bitter struggle unto death.

Lydia ties inborn things to physical causes so far as I can tell, or at least in this case. I don't, and don't think it is reasonable to think the most complex thing about humans, there souls, don't ground the most complex and important dispositions, which have great moral import. Many heritable characteristics are physical, obviously, but I don't think those that shape moral outcomes. Anger is morally neutral. Anger also becomes sin when the angry one refuses to be pacified or holds a grudge, etc. Why think that angry people are inclined to do that? I don't think that follows. We see people all the time who hold grudges who aren't hot-tempered. It has been noticed throughout human history that many that are hot-tempered and more quick to dismiss slights. Again, anger in and of itself is morally neutral.

Like I've said from the beginning, holding that physical causes and non-physical causes are functionally identical is one way to deny a problem in a shift to a naturalistic worldview, where moral causes are increasingly medicalized. I just think it is futile and pointless to convince people to act in ways for which they don't know the reasons anymore.

Wow, just wow. It's like the random Kant generator.

http://interconnected.org/home/more/2000/08/kant/

Either: (1) homosexual sex acts cannot be moral, and classical moral philosophy correctly identifies why they are immoral;

or (2) the acts cannot be moral, and classical moral philosophy fails to identify the right reason they are immoral;

or (3) the acts were immoral when people believed classical moral philosophy, but they are (or can be) moral when people believe modern theories of moral philosophy; or

(4) the acts are (or can be) moral, and modern moral philosophy (such as it is) correctly identifies why they are so; or

(5) the acts are (or can be) moral, even though modern moral philosophy incorrectly identifies the reason.

To be honest, Mark, your arguments have wandered so far around in so many directions, I cannot for the life of me tell which of these you think is accurate. "Truly, you have a dizzying intellect."

But I gave an example of a certain sort of inappropriate behavior, and you ignored it, substituting your own "not being able to sit still".

Tony, I apologize. I stated that badly. I wasn't trying to misrepresent you. This is the context.

Today, we are very clear that there are conditions that lend themselves, as pushes, to inappropriate behavior, which can be corrected with medicine. Just because a child is given to impulsivity because of ADHD doesn't mean that we think he is ENTIRELY blameless when he impulsively whacks a kid over the head for a trivial (real) offense.

The problem is that the first sentence is question begging, and I'm still puzzled how it fits with the second. It's like two disconnected statements that don't connect. The second one I agree with because I've always said culpability was degreed. I'm sorry I misrepresented your argument in my confusion. It wasn't intentional. I'm still confused as to why you put them together when they don't seem to fit. My mistake was arguing by trying to fit them together somehow and I don't actually know any way to do it.

But to blithely assume that MOODS in their turn don't tend to affect behavior for good or ill, is just silly. The saints repeatedly warn us against letting foul moods push us into bad behavior,

I have affirmed the obvious truth that moods affect behavior, and are no doubt part of God's choice of characteristics we'll have and things we'll do. Using the term "good or ill" is pregnant with meaning. Aren't you sneaking in tendentious language? Good or ill moods cause moral and immoral behavior? This is the question. Are you saying that good feelings lead to good things and bad feelings lead to bad things? I don't think that is plausible at all. On this belief of yours, why wouldn't good feelings lead to bad things?

More silly still is it to assume that there aren't OTHER physical states that are, themselves, a more direct push toward immorality.

I am not assuming they don't exist, and have said I could assume it for the sake of the argument. I am asking for reasons to think they do from those who assume they exist and also must assume in consequence that they work a certain way or the entire view would be very silly. Silly me for asking how we can assume non-silliness.

Or, to take your own example of melancholia (a mood) and depression (a psychological condition). Nobody can deny that these TEND to cause suicide in people who suffer them.

And I've already reiterated the classic understanding that responsibility can well remove responsibility in cases of insanity. Suicide in cases of melancholia may well be seen as extreme forms of it which may well indicate insanity. And has been made more complex in church history since Avagrius Pontius declared melancholia itself a mortal sin in the 4th century, a ghastly error if you ask me, and then In the 5th century St. Augustine made Christianity's first overall condemnation of suicide. And ever since we've had arguments on whether those who commit suicide can go to heaven. Many who have known friends who have committed suicide from melancholia, and sadly and bitterly I am one, say that they are shocked because it was entirely out of character and inexplicable. If that doesn't indicate a state of mind that used to be called "madness" or insanity I don't know what does. I was saying that melancholia is neutral generally, I never said there weren't the issue suicide and in fact have considered it before. Melancholia increases the risk of madness, and madness or insanity increases the tendency towards suicide.

I don't think you can build anything like what you're talking about on this extreme case. The view on melancholia I've expressed here was always known.

Anger also becomes sin when the angry one refuses to be pacified or holds a grudge, etc. Why think that angry people are inclined to do that? I don't think that follows. We see people all the time who hold grudges who aren't hot-tempered. It has been noticed throughout human history that many that are hot-tempered and more quick to dismiss slights. Again, anger in and of itself is morally neutral.

Well, Mark, you imply above that you know what it's like to have a problem with a temper, but these sentences seem to indicate that your experiences are far different from mine. First: Yes, some people who struggle with anger are more inclined because of that struggle to refuse to be pacified. That's not necessarily the same as holding a grudge, which usually means something long-term. It might be "refusing to be pacified" for a mere fifteen minutes or even five minutes, during which short time one lets 'er rip and says things one later deeply wishes one could unsay. Commits sins by one's words, that is to say.

Anger that is _indulged_ and that is not pure and righteous in its motives is not morally neutral. Getting angry at someone for doing something mildly annoying or because one feels one's dignity slighted or whatever and blowing one's top is morally wrong. Some people are even tempted to commit actual acts of physical violence when they are in an unjustified rage. It looks like you're trying to downplay the aptness of the example by denying what seems a pretty blatantly obvious fact--namely, that there are specific, real sins to which hot-headed people are especially prone. Talk about denying something that has long been acknowledged by common sense!

Lydia, the classic view is that anger is the cause of certain sins, and lack of anger is also a vice and a sin. Maybe "neutral" wasn't the right word to use. It is classed as a deadly sin, but it isn't itself a sin.

Somehow this shows physical causes for homosexual behavior I trust.

It's meant to illustrate that there can be a physical and/or heritable underlying inclination to a sin without that removing personal responsibility. As I've pointed out again and again, whether an inclination toward homosexual behavior _is_ partly mediated by inheritance is a separate question. You are saying apparently that we must assume it isn't, for if it were, this would remove personal responsibility.

However, the parallel argument obviously doesn't apply for anger. One can inherit an inclination to commit certain sins (those that result from anger) without being relieved of personal responsibility for committing those sins.

Therefore, inheriting some characteristic that gives one an inclination towards certain sins doesn't remove personal responsibility.

Therefore, _even if_ homosexual inclinations are partially heritable, it doesn't follow that people bear no personal responsibility for committing homosexual acts.

QED

I don't see where any argument has been made about the normality of gay sex. Whether the condition in the gay person of desiring sex with those of the same sex is either (A) entirely due to factors since conception, or (B) at least partly due to causes present at conception, and if (B), whether (B-1) from physical causes alone or (B-2) from causes that are non-physical, or (B-3) some of each; and for any of these (B) cases, whether (C) these causes are passed on from the parents or not,

DOES NOT determine whether the gay sex is morally normal for the gay person.

At most, at absolute MOST, one or another of the above hypotheticals could be used as one premise in an argument that gay sex is morally normal for a gay person. You need more than one premise to make an argument, and nobody pushing for the thesis stated seems to be ready or willing to make that argument, to add to the one premise the rest of the necessary foundation.

And, deciding WHICH of the above hypotheses is the right (or best) option to use for the premise of the argument wouldn't really seem to matter terribly much in the argument, so far as I can tell. They all would require similar support from other theses to found any decent argument getting in the direction they seem to just assume is true. These missing premises are of course unclear, since nobody is trying to posit them, but whatever they would be, they would have to somehow or other tackle what normative behavior is. And none of the options A through C can easily escape the counter-claim that the condition is itself an abnormality, ALL of them logically permit that as an option. So, I view almost the entirety above of getting into the weeds of the degree to which an inborn tendency is or is not physically-based to be a side issue. Whether it is or is not, either way that alone can't establish the conclusion that the tendency is normal.

As I've pointed out again and again, whether an inclination toward homosexual behavior _is_ partly mediated by inheritance is a separate question. You are saying apparently that we must assume it isn't, for if it were, this would remove personal responsibility.

But neither does it follow that physical causes of behavior would operate as functionally identical to non-physical ones. And there are certainly non-physical traits we can't change about ourselves, so that isn't the only issue either.

Positing physical causes doesn't dispose of the issue by a long shot. The physical trumps voluntariness (and thus responsibility) externally, but I'm supposed to pretend that it couldn't internally if it were true, and functional equivalence would follow if it were true. But punting to complexity doesn't solve this, because is is still assuming functional equivalence between things with no reason as I've been saying over and over. What justifies one to assume that physical causes would be functionally equivalent to non-physical causes? Nothing at all.

Say you have 5 causes for homosexuality. If only one is physical and the other 4 are non-physical or environmental. Kinda like giving one person in five in a firing squad a blank round in a sense. "Aha! Indeterminateness" Lydia says, methinks. But how do you know that the physical causes aren't 5 times stronger? You don't.

Once again, you've helped yourself to a functional equivalence in motivation of behavior, without any reason being given. The only general reason I can think of not to give a detailed reason would be to state a preference for naturalistic understandings of man and nature.

No, "partially causal" and other such phrases don't mean that the person is turned into a random number generator and that in 1 case out of 5 or what-not the person is "forced" to commit homosexual acts. That is not what any of us are saying at all. That isn't what we mean by words like "inclination" or "tendency." Rather, we just mean that one might have a psychological sense of desiring to do x and that one of the causes of that psychological sense of desire could be a physical and heritable one. But, we are then saying, if x is in fact wrong, the fact that one feels spontaneously that desire to do x, one does not have to act on it. One can resist it. This is quite easy to see in just innumerable other cases and situations. A man might feel a spontaneous urge to fantasize lustfully or even make a pass at a woman who isn't his wife. That such a spontaneous feeling might have at least partly physiological causes seems fairly obvious. He can, however, turn away from that thought and not act upon it, turn away to other good and profitable thoughts and activities. The same applies to homosexuals.

I get that perfectly well. But there still needs to be a reason to think that physical causes would be anything like spontaneous feelings.

The physical trumps voluntariness (and thus responsibility) externally, but I'm supposed to pretend that it couldn't internally if it were true, and functional equivalence would follow if it were true.

Ah, now I see why you were arguing about the burden of proof earlier, you were trying to shift it all away from your thesis.

The physical exterior cause does indeed trump the voluntary - in SOME cases. But not in all cases. As the moral philosophers make clear: some kinds of coercion is irresistible, and eradicates the voluntary completely, whereas other kinds of coercion only impede voluntariness to a degree. So, your "trumps" comment is too general.

Suppose, as a hypothesis, that there are some interior physically-caused tendencies, where the physical cause COMPLETELY does away with voluntariness and causes acts that are simply involuntary.

It remains logically possible that NOT ALL such interior physically-based tendencies operate so. So, if you actually THINK that homosexuality is such a situation where its inclination precludes voluntariness, you would have to make the argument for why you think it is so. (You would also have to explain away the gays who live chaste lives without sexual behavior, because if acting out gay sex is involuntary, they could not life chaste, celibate lives).

Perhaps you think that it is NOT logically possible for an interior physically-based cause to operate in any manner other than simply destroying voluntariness altogether. I and Lydia disagree with that thesis, and you have to back it up by more than just positing it. For one thing, the EXTERIOR physically-based causes can operate either partially and fully, so just from the fact that a cause is physical doesn't determine the question. For another, experience of people under the impetus of interior physical causes seems to indicate that sometimes these people are PARTLY responsible for their behavior, such as a person who is mildly drunk.

Now, suppose on the other hand the other, that there are some interior physically-based causes that DO operate in such a manner as to allow some voluntariness. It would remain logically possible that the cause(s) for homosexuality are not of this sort. So, to SAY that they are of this sort, would require a further argument, it would not be automatic.

And that argument is easy, and has been given before. (1) There is experiential evidence that the gay person can modify his behavior by voluntary choice: he can choose when, where, with whom, how, and other conditions for satisfying his desire - which is a great deal like how a heterosexual acts when he satisfies his sexual desires also. In addition, a gay person can choose not to satisfy his sexual leanings in any fashion - also like a heterosexual's capacity to be celibate by choice. It would seem impossible for an impetus to be of such a nature as to cause an action wholly involuntarily if some people don't act on the impetus even though they have it. And it would seem unlikely that the impetus for gay sex would appear to gays so much similar to the impetus for straight sex is for heterosexuals, and that even though the kinds of impetus driving straights to heterosexual behavior is (clearly and definitively) voluntary, still the impetus for gays would be of the involuntary sort. That's not how gays talk about it themselves. THEY say it is the same sort of urge.

No, there is little reason to suspect that the causes interior to gays that urge them in the direction of gay sex are inherently of such a nature as to drive out the voluntary altogether, and much reason to think the opposite. And the conclusion holds whether the cause of the inclination is physical, not physical, or partly both.

Positing physical causes doesn't dispose of the issue by a long shot.

Mark, it is gays who posit physical causes. Lydia and I just respond to the claim, we are not pressing the claim because we think it is an important feature of the argument. Our arguments work whether the cause is physical or not.

Mark,

This is my thread and I've read with increasing fascination and now horror as this conversation about the physical causes of our behavior and their implications for moraliy has unfolded.

It is time to bring the conversation to a close as we have reached the point of diminishing returns:

Once again, you've helped yourself to a functional equivalence in motivation of behavior, without any reason being given. The only general reason I can think of not to give a detailed reason would be to state a preference for naturalistic understandings of man and nature.

Like Paul and Tony I'm not always quite sure what to make of your writing, but this just seems obtuse. Lydia (and Tony) have both argued that common sense (and the wisdom of the ancients) suggest to us that some people are born with physical characterisics (e.g. the desire to drink alcohol) that can lead them to occassions of sin. Modern science, in particular genetic science, suggests this common sense view is correct.

As Tony patiently explained, I think two or three times now, that doesn't mean we have to abandon natual law teaching or Aristo-Thomistic morality. I do agree with you Mark on one point, but this is true of sexual morality in general, which is that since we have abandon natural law thinking we get folks like Christie who make foolish statements like this:

"people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin."

The statement is foolish because it is not relevant to the discussion of so-called gay "marriage", or to laws against sodomy, or to the proper role and responsibility of the Governor of New Jersey (who cares what his opinion is about sin -- I want my Governor to faithfully execute the laws of the State). However, I suspect that even if you pressed him further (and folks who thought like him) and asked him what he did think of sodomy, he might very well give a similar answer -- and that I why I think there is a small grain of truth to what you preach Mark. Because without telos and/or the natural law, moders are left with "well, if it feels good -- and doesn't hurt anyone -- than just do it".

But that is why Tony carefully explained why such a view is mistaken and question-begging and fails as a careful argument. It is not that social conservatives are in danger of losing our morality if we concede that behavior might be partially influenced by genetics -- we only lose if we concede a naturalistic worldview in the first place.

P.S. Interestingly, one of the most intriguing and promising biological theories about homosexuality suggest that it is a result of a form of germ:

http://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/not-final/

Well Jeff, the whole debate is rather crude, and I can't take full credit for that. I'm trying to use the terms others here use.

The wisdom of the ancients is simply alien here. For example, emotions were thought to involve both an evaluation of the situation and occurrent physiological changes as a result. Yet the evaluative component is the one that differentiates and classifies the emotion, and it is doubtful that feelings will ever be used to distinguish the emotions no matter how much our science improves. And the evaluative element surely must be culturally formed to some extent.

So don't blame me entirely for accepting as much of the terms of my debate partners as I could. I suspect if I hadn't there would be even more wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The wisdom of the ancients is simply alien here.

The wisdom of the ancients can't be absolutely alien here, if they were right. I am much more interested in whether they were right or wrong.

If SOME PEOPLE today wish to use terminology and conceptual frameworks that would tend to make the wisdom of the ancients completely alien, and if the ancients were right, then that gives me plenty of reason to reject the terminology and conceptual framework used by SOME PEOPLE today.

Note, however, that since there are today more than just a handful of Aristotelians, Platonists, Thomists, and so on, it is a mistake to view what is only the most common version of terms and concepts in mainstream media's presentation of the discussion as THE (one and only) way of talking about matters today. The terms of discussion are not as monolithic as MSM wants to pretend.

I reject utterly this incredibly recent meme that "people today can't even understand the terms of natural law theory." The only sense in which it is even approximately true, and it's at best a vague approximation, is that those who have been mis-educated in modern universities have been educated out of common sense to the extent that they can no longer grasp common sense readily. That means that we who support natural law have our work cut out for us in (a) making sure that as few people as possible are mis-educated in modern universities (kudos to Dr. Edward Feser, and to every one of my college professors), and (b) we have more work to do in discussing things with one of those mis-educated moderns because they have to expend so much extra energy and mental capacity to try to wrap their brains around "new" concepts that are as old as the hills. But since common sense is, actually, based on common experience, EVEN MIS-EDUCATED MODERNISTS can (with enough effort) grasp the old concepts of the wisdom of the ancients. As has been proven in the concrete over and over again in certain institutions. So the "can't" in the "can't even understand" is a temporary obstacle, not an inherently insurmountable one.

The wisdom of the ancients can't be absolutely alien here, if they were right.

No, it isn't absolutely alien. I think it is fair to say the interests of the contributors here is predominately in the moral and theological aspects of the classical tradition, and not so much on metaphysics and history of philosophy. Isn't that a fair statement? I don't think one can even understand the classic tradition without metaphysics.

I am much more interested in whether they were right or wrong.

That's exactly right. Exactly right. If one never rises to the point of being able to critique the ancients, there isn't much point and it can even be harmful. I'll probably have opportunity to offer my critique of Aristotle's ethics sometime on a couple very important points where I think at least the dominant way of reading him is wrong.

I came upon this by way of an epiphany after reflecting on what I think is very often incredibly idealistic advice on real critical personal things from within the church over the years that are enough to drive one cynical. It is so far divorced from reality that I would never ask for advice from a church leader on any personal matter anymore. The wisdom of the old-time pastor went the way of the wisdom of the family doctor of my youth. Now you get idealistic platitudes instead of real wisdom for real stuff. Anyway, in my search to unlock the puzzle I found a quite sophisticated set of moral philosophers that critique the received understanding of Aristotle on a few very significant points within the overall tradition. Very basic stuff that matters. It's common sense actually, and what wise people do normally, but the lack of classical theoretical cover was disconcerting to me. Cognitive dissonance. It's a strange truth that little or no scholarship was put into the nature of moral conflicts until the last fifty years or so. No one believes an ethics class will make you a good person, but still metaethics does matter since theory still makes itself felt at the very least from the top down through education systems and out through moral advice of pastors and teachers.

I'm against gay marriage but I don't get very worked up about it. If cause of homosexuality is biological (gene or germ) and if gays only make up a small percentage of population, then gay marriage probably won't radically alter society. Colour me optimistic but that's how I see it.

Anyway, in my search to unlock the puzzle I found a quite sophisticated set of moral philosophers that critique the received understanding of Aristotle on a few very significant points within the overall tradition.

Do you mean, they critique Aristotle's ethics while accepting Aristotelian metaphysics - that is to say, the "perennial philosophy" of Aristotle, St. Thomas, and the realists? I haven't heard of any such philosophers. Or do they reject that philosophy because they have grasped it and think they have dis-proven it? Or that they don't accept that perennial philosophy because they have never bothered to understand it properly?

The wisdom of the ancients is simply alien here. For example, emotions were thought to involve both an evaluation of the situation and occurrent physiological changes as a result. Yet the evaluative component is the one that differentiates and classifies the emotion, and it is doubtful that feelings will ever be used to distinguish the emotions no matter how much our science improves. And the evaluative element surely must be culturally formed to some extent...I think it is fair to say the interests of the contributors here is predominately in the moral and theological aspects of the classical tradition, and not so much on metaphysics and history of philosophy. Isn't that a fair statement? I don't think one can even understand the classic tradition without metaphysics.

No, I don't think that's a fair statement. And I definitely dispute the notion that the wisdom of the ancients is alien here IN ANY SENSE AT ALL, if you mean "here at WWWtW." Which is not how I understood you to mean "here" originally at 9:40 Aug. 31.

Moreover, you brief foray into emotions were thought to involve both an evaluation of the situation and occurrent physiological changes as a result uses language that is totally, utterly foreign to the language of the ancients, so it is difficult to see how what you mean has ANY connection with what they meant. If you were to pull up some passages from Aristotle, and show that what he was saying is what you just said, I would be able to see what you are talking about. But because I trained and studied and immersed myself in the words of the ancients and not in that of the recent moderns, I haven't the least clue what your 3 sentences meant.

I am a Catholic. More than that, I am a Catholic who believes what Catholicism teaches, which is (more than any one system) that of Thomas Aquinas. So I am a Thomist. And Thomas followed, more than any one philosopher, Aristotle (with slight modifications). Therefore, I am with slight modifications an Aristotelian. I adhere to the metaphysical realist position of Aristotle, that things independent of our minds are real; that knowledge is real; that things in the physical world are composed of matter and form; that living things are composed of body and soul; that distinctions of potency and act correctly ground our understanding of change, becoming, and perfection; and that the moral good rests on the nature of the rational being.

Do you mean, they critique Aristotle's ethics while accepting Aristotelian metaphysics - that is to say, the "perennial philosophy" of Aristotle, St. Thomas, and the realists? I haven't heard of any such philosophers.

Metaphysics could not determine ethics, but it obviously can rule it out certain views of ethics. Notice how I'm expected to believe that a negative appraisal of the possible effectiveness of counseling for homosexuals is in any way related to the MP view of man that has homosexuality in any way biologically grounded. Just an accident? Well, I've got a sweet deal on swampland in Florida fer ya. The understanding of the virtuous man of practical wisdom assumes a MP that allows such a man to change into a better man. That is precisely the threat of naturalism as was always known. People once were wise enough to know that they couldn't be agnostic about the MP of man for this quite obvious reason.

If you've never heard of critiques of Aristotle's ethics within the same MP, I guess you could do worse than to start here:

-Moral Relevance and Moral Conflict - James D. Wallace
-Morality and Conflict - Stuart Hampshire
-Moral Dilemmas - Christopher Gowans

Also to clarify something earlier, when I say "That isn't the traditional understanding" the implication for me is most certainly not "and therefore it is wrong". No, my Lord no. The wisest of the philosophers put their pants on one leg at a time. No, my heavens no. The implication is that if one knows the tradition, then one is obligated to say when one is deviating from it. There must be a shared meaning to the audience of the tradition, or there is no point in having one or knowing it. One is just stating one's opinions, and nothing more. It is fine to deviate from any standard as long as one explains where and how. To know a tradition is to know how and when one is deviating from it, to not know this is not to know the tradition. I'll happily say where I deviate from tradition, if and when I do.

Moreover, you brief foray into emotions were thought to involve both an evaluation of the situation and occurrent physiological changes as a result uses language that is totally, utterly foreign to the language of the ancients, so it is difficult to see how what you mean has ANY connection with what they meant. If you were to pull up some passages from Aristotle, and show that what he was saying is what you just said, I would be able to see what you are talking about. But because I trained and studied and immersed myself in the words of the ancients and not in that of the recent moderns, I haven't the least clue what your 3 sentences meant.

Well I was speaking off the top of my head, so I could always have been wrong, but the nature of hylomorphic dualism should lead one to understand this is not only possible, but likely. Good reference sources and Google make it pretty easy, and here you go:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emotions-17th18th/LD1Background.html#Ari

The Nichomachean Ethics characterizes pathe as the “feelings accompanied by pleasure or pain,” listing appetite, anger, fear, confidence, envy, joy, love, hatred, longing, emulation, and pity as examples (1105b21). ...

... The pathe, along with the appetites, motivate action (even to the point of provoking bodily changes such as internal temperature, color and expression). The dispositions to feel them in certain ways are, in turn, shaped by our habits of action, and states may be understood as the dispositions to feel particular kinds of pathe on certain occasions. States are, in fact, “the things in virtue of which we stand well or badly with reference to the passions [pathe]” (1105b26).

The point being, as was my original point, that naturalistic science in no way discovered mind/body deep union or interaction. The problem is that people think this discovery is new, and they accept naturalistic understandings of the matter because they it uniquely describes the deep soul/body union they feel and know. But this is false, and naturalism did no such thing.

Well, many naturalistic scientists pretty much attempt to deny the very possibility of "mind" that is spiritual anyway.

Just in general, if you are trying to describe Aristotle's theses, you may have trouble getting your point across using modernist terminology and accounts of them, instead of Aristotle's own accounts, or that of traditional commentaries on Aristotle. For example, you won't find in Ross's translation of the Nic. Ethics the words "pathe", or "evaluative component" or "occurent".

If what you mean is that Aristotle observes and accounts for the fact that we have internal conditions (such as fear), which he calls "passion" because it is in important ways a passive situation, and the condition has a component that is in the soul, and reflects apprehension of things, and has a component in the body, so that it involves physically observable changes like blood pressure etc., YES, I would understand that. After all, Aristotle explains his ideas in terms of "passion", and "soul" and "apprehension" and "body" and "change". And, moreover, I would agree with that account.

If you mean, however, that your 3 mentioned modern philosophers accept Aristotle's metaphysical principles of form and matter, potency and act, quasi-identification of form with end, and the end being tied to nature of the thing, BUT STILL repudiate Aristotle's ethics completely (or nearly so), well I don't see it. Not one review of the above works you identified suggested that the author holds Aristotelian metaphysics. Or even hinted at a compatibility.

See, the problem is that you have never really identified WHAT IS THE CONTENT of your expression "MP", such as when you say:

If you've never heard of critiques of Aristotle's ethics within the same MP, I guess you could do worse than to start here:

Within the same metaphysical framework as Aristotle? Well, that doesn't seem right. Here is a quote from a review of Scott Hampshire's book:

The Times reported on the lectures which, in a revised form, go to make up this book, under the headline: Spinoza's Ethics Preferred to Aristotle's...In the course of his treatment of Aristotle, Hampshire discusses three issues at length. First, the relation between moral theory and practice...Second, the limitations of 'single criterion' theories of moral value,...Third, he considers the matter of conflicts both of principle and of orders of priority of virtues.

Not one hint that Hampshire accepts the metaphysics of the perennial philosophy. Not one hint that morality pre-supposes the nature of the rational being. So, without understanding in the least what you mean by "within the same MP", I have no clue what you are trying to get across by suggesting those 3 works.

Do you mean that there is a classical (or "perennial") philosophy that modern philosophers disagree with? Yes, I agree with that.

Do you mean that modern philosophers generally reject not only the ethical conclusions of the perennial philosophy, but also the metaphysical foundation of them? Yes, I agree with that.

Do you mean that without noting the disagreements on the metaphysics, a person who holds the perennial philosophy can't even discuss intelligently with a modern philosopher who rejects the metaphysical foundations, I would dispute that conclusion IN PART: there would be many areas in which discussion, without noting the disagreements of metaphysics, would be unfruitful, but there are limited areas in which the discussion could still be fruitful, such as what constitutes "proof" in general. And observations of how people actually talk about good and bad actions, praiseworthy and blameworthy things.

And, finally, if you mean that modern people generally cannot engage fruitfully in a discussion with someone who holds the perennial philosophy, I really do dispute that rather strenously: more than half of the people in our polity don't know squat about metaphysics, they at most parrot a few of the more sloganizable platitudes of modern anti-realist metaphysics, BUT at the same time they live and work and recreate in a world populated in real things, and realist notions seep into their thought processes even in and around the metaphysical garbage they have been handed (which remain mostly undigested), so that most people have at least SOME rudimentary notions that are compatible with Aristotle's realism and can be brought understand those more distinctly and consciously. Even before you completely unwind their erroneous (and imperfectly grasped and held) metaphysical platitudes. To continue the "digestion" metaphor: given that most people have not, indeed cannot, digest the bare-bones metaphysics platitudes they have been forced to swallow, it is not quite as immense an undertaking to get them to spit them back out as it would be if the false metaphysics had been ingested and absorbed into their tissues and bones.

Not taking these in order to clear up some confusion first.

And, finally, if you mean that modern people generally cannot engage fruitfully in a discussion with someone who holds the perennial philosophy, I really do dispute that rather strenously:

Tony, I really have no clue why you think I'm saying that. I assumed when you said it earlier that you must have been confusing someone else's words for mine. I've repeatedly insisted that a primary advantage of my view on physical causes or inborn traits comports with the common wisdom of average people. I've repeatedly said that your view and Lydia's is the view of those who suppose themselves the educated Christian elites, whether it be theological or moral. I don't recall anyone even disputing this here, though I'm not arguing anything from silence because maybe they just didn't. But right or wrong, I sure as Hell don't think that "modern people generally cannot engage fruitfully in a discussion with someone who holds the perennial philosophy". Not getting snippy, but somehow you missed my strong anti-elitism (on the merits of this question at least) and it baffles me so much I didn't even know you were talking about me until about the third time now.

If you mean, however, that your 3 mentioned modern philosophers accept Aristotle's metaphysical principles of form and matter, potency and act, quasi-identification of form with end, and the end being tied to nature of the thing, BUT STILL repudiate Aristotle's ethics completely (or nearly so), well I don't see it.

No, no, I'm sorry I wasn't very clear on that. The confusion is my fault. All I was saying was that the books I listed contain critiques of a few critical aspects of some of the received versions of Aristotle ethics. They point out reasons for thinking Aristotle very likely did not hold to the critiqued aspects, or at the least was not completely decided on the matter. It would be extremely dogmatic to think of the several ways he construes certain possible answers to a few questions that our teachers picked out the right version and no one needs at this point to evaluate the received version. As Aristotle wasn't divine, neither were our teachers of him in any age and still.

These critiques are of the most basic and quite commonsensical and foundational. They have technical parts, but the questions raised could be discussed in a Sunday school class. The most basic stuff is the hardest to get at sometimes. There is nothing new under the sun, but a lot of forgotten stuff. Wallace gets right to it. A big clue is the disconnect between common sense and some of the received wisdom on Aristotle that we actually share. Believe me, if you blow all of them and certainly Wallace, you'll regret it sooner or later. Probably sooner.

For example, you won't find in Ross's translation of the Nic. Ethics the words "pathe", or "evaluative component" or "occurent".

It makes no difference on the matter at hand if the Greek lexicon does not map neatly onto English concepts. There was no specific word for jealousy in ancient Greece. Does it matter that the dividing line between "jealousy" and "envy" in English and German are different? As long as we are clear about the cognition and desires that we think important and want to look at in a given case, then we can easily abstract away from any language differences and pick out the emotion that we're looking for.

Here's the bottom line on the whole emotion and ancients thing. Aristotle could not have implicated emotions in moral virtues if he had not thought emotions have a cognitive component that is subject to rational and moral evaluation, and also to criticism and change. Aristotle held to a golden mean for emotions too and not just virtue. I don't think it an accident that Aristotle discussed the emotional virtues and vices primarily in the context of his writing on rhetoric. In contrast to the rationalist Plato who had rejected emotional appeal because of his rationalism. In other words, Plato's rationalism had the consequence that he thought emotional appeal was hostile to thoughtful judgement. Aristotle was not a rationalist and thought emotions participated in reason, and that was why it rhetoric, the art of persuasion, was a legitimate (and necessary) form of public discourse rather than something sneaky and dirty. In contrast to Plato, for Aristotle emotions should be infused with reason rather than be controlled by reason negatively and repressively.

Of course pain and pleasure are sensations, and not emotions properly speaking and there would be no cognitive component. They are effects of other things.

All I was saying was that the books I listed contain critiques of a few critical aspects of some of the received versions of Aristotle ethics. They point out reasons for thinking Aristotle very likely did not hold to the critiqued aspects, or at the least was not completely decided on the matter.

Fair enough. The "perennial philosophy" continued to develop after Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics "settled" some of the things Aristotle left open. Or in some cases revised some of the places where he went slightly astray. It is reasonable to be careful not to attribute to Aristotle specifically the further additions and resolutions that he left open, but for the most part they are pretty minor. And he definitely set the tone for them, made them to be part of his philosophy in potencia as it were.

Aristotle could not have implicated emotions in moral virtues if he had not thought emotions have a cognitive component that is subject to rational and moral evaluation, and also to criticism and change. Aristotle held to a golden mean for emotions too and not just virtue.

But that position JUST IS part of the perennial philosophy: that an emotion is a faculty whereby the human (and animals too) feels certain things upon apprehending certain goods or evils before him, and the virtuous or EXCELLENT man feels them in a way that is conformed to right reason about that good or evil: neither in excess nor in deficiency given all the facts and circumstances (but animals' feelings are not so regulated). And the "apprehension" could be that of sensation, that of reason alone, or an admixture of the 2. And that a man not yet virtuous can become so by habituating himself to the right response with practice, by "doing violence" to his non-golden-mean feelings when they don't comport with right reason, acting as if he felt the right way.

I've repeatedly insisted that a primary advantage of my view on physical causes or inborn traits comports with the common wisdom of average people. I've repeatedly said that your view and Lydia's is the view of those who suppose themselves the educated Christian elites, whether it be theological or moral... Not getting snippy, but somehow you missed my strong anti-elitism.

Well, I don't want to be snippy either. Let me just say it this way: you have been less than clear on what constitutes the difference between your view (on physical causes and inborn traits) and mine, or Lydia's, views on same. We all apparently agree that there are such physical causes. We apparently agree that proper human action doesn't accept that simply going along with the emotional feelings you have constitutes human excellence. So what specifically separates your view from an "elitist" position?

By the way, I am OK with using the term "elitist" for the moment, but there is a difference between saying that a position is held by the Christian highly educated, and that it is not compatible with the general sense of the Christian non-educated. I take the perennial philosophy to be a body of thought that takes the common sense understandings of everyman and organizes them, refines them, puts precision to them, and corrects certain (usually minor) inherently contradictory ideas, but does NOT reject those understandings in the main. However, in every age or culture there are certain prevalent vices, and the common understanding of men in that age will be warped with respect to that vice, and so the "common understanding of everyman" must be taken broadly over many times and variations in culture to be relatively balanced. I would not take the common attitude of men in 17th century France to be the "common everyman" norm about pride and vanity, nor would I take the common attitude of men in late 20th century America to represent the norm about sexual desire.

Wallace gets right to it. A big clue is the disconnect between common sense and some of the received wisdom on Aristotle that we actually share. Believe me, if you blow all of them and certainly Wallace, you'll regret it sooner or later. Probably sooner.

You'll have to give me a better reason for paying good money for and expending good time on reading the books. If Wallace fully accepts Aristotle's, or the perennial philosophy's, basic metaphysical framework for reality and how we understand it, the reviews about his book seem to give no hint at all of the fact. If Wallace does not accept the Aristotelian framework, explaining reality in terms of act and potency, form and matter and final causality, then his "correction" of certain traditional readings of Aristotle cannot possibly be more likely to be valid than the traditional readings. So, quote me a few passages that make it clear exactly how Wallace absorbs Aristotelian principles, conforms his approach to that, and models his thesis along principled Aristotelian realism.

On Wallace that's just not so. I always read scholarly reviews on books I read. It amazes me how people are always extolling the virtues of education and denigrating the value of reading books and making excuses for not reading them. If it were me I'd get it interlibrary loan for free and read it in my spare time. Well, I was just trying to help. One can always learn the hard way.

I'd just add that there have been many writers on Aristotle that have distorted the plain meaning of his view on emotion by an overly intellectualist interpretation that has emotions as merely passive parts of an irrational soul that does not participate in cognition and reasoning, but can control it in is some unspecified murky way. However, this is not generally regarded to be Aristotle's position, and should not be. You mentioned W. D. Ross's translation of NE. Ross's interpretation of Aristotle is famously regarded to be one of these intellectualist accounts.

Deborah Achtenberg includes the explicitly metaphysical context of Aristotle's view on emotions in "Cognition of Value in Aristotle’s Ethics":

"For Aristotle, value is not a special moral object beyond those we can experience or know to which our special moral faculty must be responsive if we are to have virtue and act appropriately. For him, awareness of value is simply a cognitive matter. Value is cognized by our two faculties for non discursive awareness, intellectual insight (nous), and practical insight (phronēsis), or, as Aristotle often says more simply, value is perceived. It is cognized by emotion as well, since emotion for Aristotle is not brute but is of itself a type of perception of value, specifically, perception of the value of certain particulars."

On Wallace that's just not so.

I am just going by what I see in the reviews. First, there's this by R.B. Scott on Villanova's website:

Wallace's second book in ethics follows Virtues and Vices (CH, Feb '79). Here he articulates and defends a "Deweyan" account of practical reasoning, which he calls "the contextualist model."

Then there's this at JSTOR, after an intro that contains not a least hint of Aristotelian concepts and a slight hint away from that:

As one would expect of a view that is contextualist and pragmatic, the complex set of moral considerations that exists at any give time contains no absolutes or final solutions.

As far as I know, nobody has ever linked Dewey-esque theory and Aristotelianism, because they are worlds apart. And anyone who thinks that Aristotle's concept of virtue doesn't require at least a few absolutes (that's the only way I can surmise anything in the review even touches on something Aristotle said) probably doesn't think anything Aristotle said makes much sense.

And I am obviously not sure what he (the reviewer) means by "contains no final solutions" because I haven't read the book, but any view of moral action, including the traditional reading of Aristotle, says that in the end man has to act and that action needs to be moral. Whatever solution results in a concrete action, which is upright and praiseworthy, must be a valid "final solution" for that situation.

I only mention Ross's because it is online and can be searched easily. I have used Richard McKeon's, and I also have 2 others that are NOT publicly available, in-house translations by life-long scholars.

Taking "value" to be equivalent to Aristotle's "the desirable" (when value is used as a noun, or as "desired" when used as a verb), nothing Atchenberg comment above is the least problematic for anything I understand Aristotle saying. Which leaves me still wondering just what it is that you think that differs from the "traditional" reading of the perennial philosophy as adapted from Aristotle and handed on to us through the medieval thinkers? So far you have stated 2 thoughts that seem well in line with the traditional reading.

I agree with Atchenberg that passion at times deals with cognition even without rationalized thinking: that which is "desirable" can be presented to me as desirable by sensation alone: the smell of a warm piece of apple pie can lead to an appetitive response of desire without my having to reflect intellectually on pie. What Aristotle says in addition to that is that for the man not yet trained up to virtue, the degree of desire may be inordinate, and the (mostly) good man will then act in such a way as to not follow the desire by satisfying it; whereas for the virtuous man settled in good habits, the degree of desire will be conformed to right reason, and he will not want to eat for a sense-level pleasure because doing so won't feel desirable overall. Which takes into account all of the facts and circumstances of the situation, not just the one of sensory pleasure.

And as for Aristotle (or traditional interpreters) saying that passion is an irrational aspect of the soul, I don't know how that would work: One of the proper objects of the emotion anger is "perceived injustice", which PER SE requires intellectual activity at some level - animals don't apprehend justice. Admittedly, another object of anger is perceived threat, but even there the person can respond to a threat in fear or in anger, and one of the things that draws the person one way rather than the other is perceived injustice. Or: in fear we can be responding either to an immediate sense-level stimulus, simple pain, or to a future threat that we apprehend through mental activity or through the imagination and memory of past events. So although in animals a given passion or emotion does not involve a rational element, in humans it can happen initially with or without a rational element. How is that different from what you are saying?

Tony, I think you're confusing the entire matter and I'm out of patience for this. The reviewer you cite recommended the book, and when he said there were "no absolutes or final solutions" he was not saying there were no moral absolutes. The Aristotelian man of practical wisdom doesn't see absolutes in this way either. Aristotle would not approve of the absolutism of utilitarianism or deontology, the latter of which is definitely associated with absolutism. Moral absolutes and absolutism are entirely different things.

And back to the matter in question. As far as my not being clear, I'll state my view in bullet points below. I think this is the classic view, right or wrong. Anyway, it is my view.

1) Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a complex learned social behavior.

2) Urges and desires to satisfy sexual bodily sensations is not homosexuality or heteorsexuality per se.

3) Desires to fulfill needs for sexual pleasure, urges, and sensations are socially ordered. There is no such thing as being born with homosexual inclinations. It is like saying one is born a rocket scientist. Therefore homosexual "dispositions" could not be physical or inborn even if if non-physical.

It will be objected that though one could not be born to be a rocket scientist, one may well have inclinations to it such as being "detail oriented" "math oriented" or other such lower level dispositions. But this metaphor is hyperbole and not literal, because obviously there are any number of careers with the same characteristics. Therefore, it was environment and understanding, so that wanting to exercise one's natural capacities in the ways seen available by knowing or hearing of other rocket scientists or teachers is what makes one want to be a rocket scientist. It is not inborn in any non-trivial way.

4) Homosexuality is unnatural according to human nature, because of the complementary makeup of the sexes. There is a component of narcissism and rejection in choosing homosexuality. Fundamentally it is rejecting the complexity and richness of otherness and choosing the beings as close to oneself as possible.

Even if humans were immortal and had no need to reproduce this would still be true. Same sex attractions are evaluative and socially ordered, but no social permission or promotion can change the fact that it is unnatural regardless of the underlying biology.

Well I shouldn't say that is the "classic view", but rather a view compatible with it. Homosexuality per se is a recent phenomenon as has been pointed out I think. Also, it so happens that we do need to reproduce so it is fine to bring up the fact that homosexual relationships are not fruitful. I'm just saying that it runs far deeper than that.

Mark, thank you. I really wish you had thought to be that clear from the beginning. Because I can guarantee you that you would have had a lot better response from me, and I think from Lydia. Briefly:

1. I am OK with that within the context you lay out in 2 and 3. Without that context, I would be more cautious using the phrase "learned social behavior" and might ask for substitutions, such as "complex behavior involving environment and social context". The phrase "learned social behavior" could be mistaken in certain ways, though you do a good job in 2 and 3 for avoiding them.

2. Theoretically root (but not yet actual) urges to satisfy bodily appetites can be expressed in concrete desires that are homosexual or heterosexual in effect because appetites can be molded. So while the abstract, generalized "desire for physical orgasm", for example, is gender neutral, the desire can be molded into a desire for orgasm with X as a developed formation of the faculty, impressing a specific form onto the root capacity. Nevertheless, there is nothing that prevents the root appetite to be built in a direction that is constrained by both bodily factors as well as social and environmental factors. The preference for blonds as opposed to redheads is almost certainly developed in connection with experience (social and environmental conditioning). I would be cautious coming to a conclusion that there is NO element of that particularizing that is given physically. It is theoretically possible for the preference for blonds to be BOTH be rooted in the physical as a small factor providing a slight base of inclination, and be due to environmental factors that finish building up a specificity that was ready to be built up, though there is no reason to assume it is so.

3. Desires to fulfill needs for sexual pleasure, urges, and sensations in particular ways are developed, built, specified and determined in the context of experience and society. As an analogy: that a person wants protection from harsh elements is given by his physical nature. That he wants it in the form of a cave, or house, or apartment, or mud hut, is built onto the base need by environmental constraints tied to social patterns. That he want it as a RED BRICK house may be a highly complex social adaptation of the the base need, but it remains possible that the red in that desire is also based on some physical specificity in his make-up which makes it easier for environmental factors to impress upon him personal satisfaction with red than it would be for some other people: a readiness in one direction more so than in other directions. Though there is no need to assume that there is a physical component.

4. Homosexuality is unnatural according to human nature, because of the complementary makeup of the sexes. Agreed. For a specific person, the degree to which the person experiences sexual desires for a person of the same sex is from environmental causes and the degree to which it may also be composed with a physical constraint or built-in readiness in that direction IS IRRELEVANT to determining the whether acting out sexual acts with a person of the same sex are moral acts for that person. Such acts will be disordered human acts of their own nature no matter what degree, from 100% to 0%, the particularizing source of the desire is to be attributed to environmental and social factors. One way to describe this it that it is absolutely true that each act of homosexual sex the act supercedes a good higher in the hierarchical order of human goods for a lower order good, in a way that rejects the higher order good. Another way to describe it is that such an act is a failure to love in a truly human fashion.

5. Since such acts are immoral regardless of whether the complex, built-up, particularized desire for sex with a person of the same sex is WHOLLY due to environmental and social factors, or is WHOLLY from physical factors, or is from a mixture of the two, it is unnecessary to come to an agreement with gays about the exact degree or manner in which there is some physical component behind the concrete desire to argue that the acts are immoral.

This is all fine Tony, but I don't think it solves anything.

I neglected to state it above plainly this way, but it clearly follows from my account of emotions (and I'd argue the Aristotelian-Thomistic account), attractions are evaluative. But I don't think this accords with what most people who have definite views on the matter have in mind when they talk about "same-sex attractions". I think they are talking about biological attractions. This is a fundamental disagreement, and a more full account like I gave above doesn't reduce it however much common ground one might find on other points.

It still remains a fact that you insist on being agnostic on the MP of human persons, and what follows from that in light of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition as it relates to this question.

I contend that there is no basis to hold that physical causes of behavior subject to moral evaluation, if they existed, would be functionally equivalent to non-physical ones. None of what you said above changes any of the disagreement. As I tried to say several times but perhaps poorly, I wasn't hanging my argument entirely on the question of resistibility of physical causes simply because it is plainly obvious that even the degree of resistibility would matter. If the certain sins were far harder to resist than others, it is only those who also believe in absolutist understandings of meta-ethics and/or theology who would find this even remotely plausible. That would also explains what I think can be clearly observed, as I've already said, that this agnosticism among those who disapprove of homosexuality is mainly among those who comprise the moral-theological educated elites of the church. Just as you could and can still among them in diminished numbers, find the only ones who thought that God could have chosen who would be saved and damned would not implicate God in sin. As with the homosexuality question, it is plainly counter-intuitive. Only a theoretical absolutist could think that. But a dependable theoretical construct needs to find its ground in nature. That's the whole point, and back to metaphysics we go again.

So yeah, anyone can say it makes no difference whether there are physical causes to homosexuality in whatever way they mean that. But however they mean that, the agnosticism about it rides upon a either one or both of

1) holding to a functional equivalence of physical and non-physical causes
2) holding to a moral absolutism where the degree of effort required to resist for those with the disposition, even if heroic, would not matter to their responsibility in it

And the problem is that these two items are self-reinforcing. Disagree with #1 and they throw #2 at you. Disagree with #2 and they throw #1 at you. Disagree with both and they throw at you a nuanced account that incorporates part of #1 and #2 in contradictory ways as it suits. And around and around it goes. Don't take it personal, and I'm sure it isn't intentional, but I think it is sophistry.

BTW, just this morning I picked up a book that had a snippet of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, so I looked up the reference. I thought it was striking how much it reminded me of my somewhat labored account above. Clearly, you can't glibly dismiss physical causes as functionally equivalent to non-physical without making certain metaphysical assumptions about what is human nature, and what we mean when we say that.

From Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, Book 2, Chapter 1

http://www.constitution.org/ari/ethic_02.htm

… moral virtue comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name (ethike) is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word ethos (habit). From this it is also plain that none of the moral virtues arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. For instance the stone which by nature moves downwards cannot be habituated to move upwards, not even if one tries to train it by throwing it up ten thousand times; nor can fire be habituated to move downwards, nor can anything else that by nature behaves in one way be trained to behave in another. Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit.

… It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.

In fact, what is happening here is paralleled by Aristotle himself in trying to refute philosophers who tried to "save the phenomenon" of change while accepting a Parmenidean logic that denies the possibility of change. They did so by (surprise!) materialistic theories.

So for example, Aristotle's disagreement with pansomatists, far from being incidental, is central to the establishment of his own alternative philosophy of substance, and he had to demonstrate the inadequacy of their theories of heredity and show the superiority of his own account via matter, form, and final causes. Bottom line is that if there is nothing other than accidental change, there could be no substance since it requires substantial change. And the pansomatists conceived of offspring as merely a sum of resemblances, which amounts to a theory of accidental change.

In the disagreement with the pansomatists over hereditary resemblance, he argues that their account of explaining similarity of features in parents and offspring failed to explain the observed facts of resemblance. He used the actual/potential distinction as the basis of his alternative. The potential has its definition in what is actual, and for him that meant form and final cause.

It was often by the differences between formal (non-material) and final causes on the one hand, and strictly material causality on the other, that Aristotle explicitly distinguished his own views from the views of preceding or contemporary philosophers. Aristotle was far from agnostic on metaphysical views that were the basis for his ethics. He could not afford to be agnostic or he'd have undermined the basis for his ethical views.

Aristotle has a warning about assimilating the work of the philosophers and "physicians". Never a truer word said. The medicalization of behavior isn't anything new, but it isn't anything good and was always thought to be destructive of Christian understandings of morality.

"As for health and disease it is the business not only of the physician but also of the natural philosopher (tou phusikou) to discuss their causes up to a point. But the way in which these two classes of inquirers differ and consider problems must not escape us, since the facts prove that up to a point their activities have the same scope; for those physicians who have subtle and inquiring minds have something to say about natural science, and claim to derive their principles therefrom, and the most accomplished of those who deal with natural science tend to conclude with medical principles."

Aristotle, "On Youth, Old Age, Life and Death, and Respiration"

Thanks for your comments, Mark.

It still remains a fact that you insist on being agnostic on the MP of human persons,

I don't know what you mean by "MP" here, so I don't know what you are getting at.

If the certain sins were far harder to resist than others, it is only those who also believe in absolutist understandings of meta-ethics and/or theology who would find this even remotely plausible.

I don't grasp your meaning for "absolutist" that is different from a belief in moral absolutes.

1) holding to a functional equivalence of physical and non-physical causes

You're right, we disagree on the metaphysical situation here. I see no reason why they (the physical and non-physical causes) MUST be functionally non-equivalent, instead of at least potentially similar to the extent of either kind leaving room for free acts, or (in other cases) either kind NOT leaving room for free acts, and you have not seen fit to argue WHY they must be functionally not-similar in that very aspect, only the sheer claim that they are not alike on that issue. I suppose we will have to continue to disagree until you find an argument as to why the metaphysical reality precludes likeness in that respect.

2) holding to a moral absolutism where the degree of effort required to resist for those with the disposition, even if heroic, would not matter to their responsibility in it

Who is saying that? Or suggesting it? Or posing a thesis that logically requires it? Not I, certainly. I never threw it at you, or in any way allowed it to be considered as compatible with my position, so it could never be part of a slip-sliding one-two sophistical punch from my direction. I always said that the degree of responsibility DOES changes with any and all of the causes that create leanings or inclinations in the person, but that the nature of the act remains disordered as a human act as such, NO MATTER how responsible the person is (or isn't). This is the firm, clear teaching of the Church from medieval times and the explicit position of the late medieval thinkers. That the person can be non-culpable for a disordered act, or can (in other circumstances) be only partly culpable for the disordered act, without changing that the act is inherently disordered no matter what the contributing causes.

You may call that "absolutist," but that's what I mean by there being such a thing as moral absolutes, to which you seemed to agree that there were. I would like to see moral absolutes that DON'T mean something comparable to this.

If the certain sins were far harder to resist than others, it is only those who also believe in absolutist understandings of meta-ethics and/or theology who would find this even remotely plausible.

As is often the case with your comments, Mark, you use a seemingly stand-alone pronoun whose antecedent entity cannot be identified no matter how hard I try. In this case, I don't know whether "this" in "would find this even remotely plausible" refers to:

"If the certain sins were far harder to resist than others"
"that even the degree of resistibility would matter"
" the question of resistibility of physical causes"

I can't make any of them mean something significant when I try plugging them in for "this." I am afraid that this happens quite regularly with your statements, maybe because you use complex sentences with lots of phrases, I don't know. But I have a lot of trouble sorting out what a later phrase is referring to.

Absolutism is a type of meta-ethical view, where hard-and-fast-rules allow for no exceptions for circumstances. For example, those that believe that one should never lie even if to the Nazis to save the Jews hiding in the basement are absolutists. I take it that Aristotle's man of practical reasoning could not be absolutist, because absolutists tend to want to replace rules for practical reasoning.

But as far as absolutism in this thread, on the matter of unconcern whether or not people will or even can internalize a given moral notion, such as the idea that homosexuality is a sin, if they believe it is natural or God given, I think that is similar to the situation with Calvinist notions that are fideist and absolutist. If it doesn't matter whether people are able to believe it or not, what difference does it make if it is true or not?

If it doesn't matter whether people are able to believe it or not, what difference does it make if it is true or not?

I am going to assume Mark means by "it" the antecedent "the idea that homosexuality is a sin". I can't make the statement mean anything if it doesn't refer back to that.

Cannibals raised in a culture where the winners eat their enemies may "not be able to believe that cannibalism is a sin", but it is a disordered human behavior whether they believe it or not. And it matters whether it is true because unless it were true, there would be no reason to preach to them the Truth of Jesus Christ that is opposed to their beliefs. The meta-ethical notion that it is NOT a disordered behavior if they cannot believe it is a sin is one version of "situation ethics" (may go under other names, such as contextualism), which pretty much by definition defies the notion of moral absolutes. I have no idea why you want to claim the mantle of believing in moral absolutes without accepting that absolutes apply absolutely in all cases, but that's what MOST people mean by the term, and that it is incoherent to deny absolutes apply absolutely and then claim that you believe in moral absolutes.

Absolutism is a type of meta-ethical view, where hard-and-fast-rules allow for no exceptions for circumstances. For example, those that believe that one should never lie even if to the Nazis to save the Jews hiding in the basement are absolutists. I take it that Aristotle's man of practical reasoning could not be absolutist, because absolutists tend to want to replace rules for practical reasoning.

Practical reasoning starts from premises, or it isn't really reasoning at all. The man of true prudence knows where his premises arise from, and indeed knows the earliest, most fundamental, most primitive, most universal premises clearly: "Man is a rational animal", "Do good and avoid evil", and "love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength." As the most universal, they do not admit of "exceptions", so they are indeed absolutes, and he uses them absolutely. Later, derivative premises such as "do not kill," because they are composed of many source elements, do admit of exceptions, but the exceptions come in by serving and protecting more fundamental premises, which absolutely hold in all cases: "do not use people as if they were things". If the prudent man's reasoning about particulars is not rooted in universals that are true fundamentally and can never NOT be true, they aren't really reasoned out solidly and amount to mere guess-work.

If, on the other hand, you surmise that a person should be called an absolutist because he thinks that EVERY moral judgment is made in such a way that there is absolutely exactly and only one "true" upright moral conclusion, that all judgments follow definitively and without room for alternatives from universal absolutes, and that every differing judgment is pernicious and morally sinful, I think you mean by absolutism something that is so far from anything any person who ever graced the pages of W4 that it is an absolute straw man to even talk about it here. Such a fiction, such a paper tiger would be so far opposed to my view, and Lydia's, and everyone else's here, that in arguing against it you are effectively going off on a tangent that has no bearing here. And would amount to bad will in arguing to suppose I was holding a view that had any remotest likeness to that.

It is possible to say that SOME moral conclusions are precluded absolutely because a moral absolute puts THAT proposed behavior outside human behavior at all times and in all circumstances, without saying that the same absolute principle constrains ALL OTHER possible actions, so that exactly and entirely only one possible action is morally licit. For example, when a priest of Baal says to sacrifice a child to Baal or you will die, a Christian knows by an absolute principle that he cannot obey, that obedience would be in violation of a fundamental moral principle that does not admit of exceptions; at the same time, what positive action he chooses to do is open to lots and lots of licit options: he can spit at the priest and say "do your worst, tyrant", he can say "I beg God to forgive your sins", he can say "put the sacrifice in my hands" and then try to run away, he can argue the matter of who died and made him a god, he can call on the guards to disobey the priest and save their own souls, he has LOTS of good acts available to him, and no universal principle specifies which one is the "only permissible" act.

Moral theory that confuses the issue of absolutes here is devoid of soundness, as the last few popes made clear, especially what is in Veritatis Splendor.

If, on the other hand, you surmise that a person should be called an absolutist because he thinks that EVERY moral judgment is made in such a way that there is absolutely exactly and only one "true" upright moral conclusion, that all judgments follow definitively and without room for alternatives from universal absolutes, and that every differing judgment is pernicious and morally sinful, I think you mean by absolutism something that is so far from anything any person who ever graced the pages of W4 that it is an absolute straw man to even talk about it here. Such a fiction, such a paper tiger would be so far opposed to my view, and Lydia's, and everyone else's here, that in arguing against it you are effectively going off on a tangent that has no bearing here. And would amount to bad will in arguing to suppose I was holding a view that had any remotest likeness to that.

Yeah, that would be a straw man.

Moral theory that confuses the issue of absolutes here is devoid of soundness

Tony, you're the one that is confused about the difference between "moral absolutes" and "absolutism". This is a common term. See an authority you might respect using the term looselyhere, or for the properly philosophical uses of it see here.

Though I was using it here in a slightly different way, the denial of using a lesser of two evils isn't infrequent here, but in any case some use the term "moral objectivist" to distinguish this view from "moral absolutist". Gilbert Meilaender shows how to disagree with a great theologian (Augustine as it were) in a chapter on absolutism on the question of lying in "Things that Count".

Mark, I am not objecting to the theoretical distinction between absolutism and moral absolutes, I am saying that in your hands your concept of valid moral absolutes effectively appears to be an empty theoretical object - an empty set. So that practically, anyone who claims that X is a moral absolute ends up, in your parlance, as an absolutist.

I say that there are moral absolutes, moral statements that admit of no exceptions: "Worship God alone and no other". "Intentionally designed and consented contracepted sex is a disordered act of its own nature."

You appear to be implying that since the validity of these (and any similar moral statements which a person might propose apply in all cases) as applied to a particular case depends on context, (a) they might not be valid in a specific case; and then (b) they are not absolutes. And therefore, a person who would apply these (or any similar statements) in all cases regardless of context would be operating as an absolutist.

Maybe this appearance of what you are saying is mistaken, maybe you mis-spoke about what you mean. Maybe what you mean is that while you agree that the above statements are indeed moral absolutes that apply in all cases without exception (and therefore that there is no need to take into account the context to come to the conclusion that acts in defiance of those statements are disordered human acts), that rather the statement "homosexual acts are disordered acts of their own nature" is NOT a moral absolute, that it is mis-identified as an absolute, and therefore cannot be applied in all cases regardless of context. If you agree with SOME moral absolute statements applying everywhere in all cases, you have failed to convey that fact. You can correct that by simply stating some of the moral absolutes you think apply in all cases regardless of context.

I don't know what Gregory Meilaender says about absolutism since I don't have his book, but in any case I don't see how you construct a thesis about absolutISM on the basis of a disagreement on whether a specific statement is valid as an absolute. If you agree on 30 out of 31 statements being absolutes, and disagree with the 31st, that doesn't make the one trying to say the 31st is a valid absolute into an "absolutist". As regards whether "lying is always disordered" is a valid absolute or not, can be framed as a viable discussion without ever getting into absolutism in any way.

George R.,

You probably aren't still paying attention to this thread, if you ever were in the first place, but if you are and you click on the first link Mark provided in his September 9, 3:50 AM comment (as an aside -- why aren't you sleeping at 3:50 AM Mark -- you need your rest!), you'll see why I brought it to your attention. Pope Pius VI's strange comments about individualism are enough to make me think your criticisms of the Church have merit ;-)

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